Entirely appropriately, heavy showers landed in Jericho just as I was arriving to see The Levelling, the assured debut from filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach. The story is told from the perspective of Clover, a trainee vet returning home to her family's Somerset Levels farm following the death of her brother. Clover's troubled relationship with her father (David Troughton) is at the centre of the film; he resents her for having left behind her family to attend university, whilst she feels she was pushed away.
It's soon made clear that James, Clover's brother, committed suicide during a party held to mark the handing down of the farm from father to son. The family's farmhouse has lain damp and dormant for much longer, rendered uninhabitable by the floods which devastated the Somerset levels a few years earlier.
It may be simplistic to look for metaphorical associations here but it's hard to avoid seeing the links between the house and the father, both being cold, dark and isolated. Furthermore, the director has talked about the floods as representing the problems within the family: 'Rivers were not being dredged and the floods happened because the rivers were silted up. Here is a family that has stopped talking and the channels of communication stopped'. One of the film's key lines comes right at the beginning: 'can you make it my dad instead of my brother?'.
Ellie Kendrick, best known for her role in Game of Thrones, puts in an understated yet powerful central performance as Clover. She at times allows herself to be pushed down by her bullying father but the moments where she fights back are genuinely quite heroic: 'I have two degrees, I'm not stupid'. She strikingly refers to him by his name, Aubrey, throughout much of the film. When she finally calls out for her 'daddy' towards the conclusion of the story, it's a hugely impactful and touching moment.
The film runs to a lean 83 minutes, though its intensity does make it feel longer. It should be said that it was made as part of the low-budget filmmaking scheme, iFeatures, created to help support films made outside of London.
The film's title is wonderfully apt in so many ways. It's an obvious play on the Somerset Levels, but 'levelling' can also refer to 'bringing things or persons to a common level', which James's suicide has done. It can mean, 'to aim a weapon or criticism at a mark or objective' – this happens literally and metaphorically at key moments throughout. 'To speak truthfully and openly' – well, yes. 'To knock down a person' – again, taken literally or not, tick that one off the list too.