The Levelling has been widely recognised as one of the best British films of 2017. Trainee vet Clover Catto (Ellie Kendrick) returns to the farm where she grew up after hearing news that her brother Harry has died in what appears to be a suicide. Finding the family home in a state of horrendous disrepair following the 2014 floods that devastated the area, Clover is forced to confront her father Aubrey about the farm, the livestock and, crucially, the details surrounding Harry’s death. Clover’s discoveries send her on an emotional journey of reckoning with her family, her childhood and herself.
The Levelling is a film marked by absences. Clover, her mother and Harry have all, in one way or another, departed the Catto household, and even Aubrey has had to vacate the flooded premises to live in an adjacent caravan. The farmhouse, now empty of people and still bearing the damage of the recent deluge, is a vivid symbol of the family’s devastation in the wake of overwhelming circumstances.
It is also a place where the past, whether recent or distant, forms layers of persistence. Leftovers from the party at which Harry died have stayed scattered all over the courtyard. Both Clover’s and Harry’s decorated bedrooms remain shrines to their adolescence.
The title means the film’s setting, the Somerset levels, but there are echoes of the 17th-century agitators and pamphleteers: the levellers, harbingers of retribution in which the high and mighty will be reduced to the level of those on whose labour they have exalted themselves. And of course the title refers to the great levelling itself: the appearance in everyone’s life of that agricultural nightmare: the grim reaper.
There is an outstanding performance from Ellie Kendrick: fiercely intelligent, serious, real and is the centre of the film. Clover has tellingly decided to become a vet; to some extent she has been shaped and influenced by this place, but she does not want to become tied to this or any other farm. More importantly, she is a vegetarian, a life choice that divides her from the family she left behind.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall