My mother always said there was a reason the British came to cover the world map in red. ‘Temperament, darling. Which is naturally compatible with world domination’ (actually she called it ‘a natural inclination to rule’ which others might see as a combination of breath taking arrogance and rapacious garnering of other nations’ wealth).
And this temperament she put down to the weather. For mum the one thing that distinguished the British from all the other nations was that we had weather and the rest had their climates.
We have a bit of rain, mostly something called mizzle which is a bit like what you get out of one of those hand held shower thingies you get in communal bathrooms in B&Bs, something that approximates to sunshine but doesn’t do the heating up bit and skies that look like over-boiled handkerchiefs. In her view it was this lack of extremes – no droughts, or hurricanes, or tornadoes or monsoons – that made us calm in crises and able to keep going when the rest of the planet had taken shelter.
But with the advent of a globalised weather forecasting function, and climate change that has all changed so now we are as prone to nature’s violence as the next. Which has given us events such as the floods of the Somerset levels in 2013/14 that was the backdrop to the Levelling, a gloomy film that I recently saw.
The premise is straightforward: trainee veterinarian Clover Catto returns to the family farm where she grew up after hearing news that her brother Harry has died – what appears to be a suicide. Finding the family home in a state of 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. As the funeral approaches, her discoveries send Clover on emotional journey of reckoning – with her family, her childhood and herself.
No one is happy, everywhere is muddy and there is a lot of digging and illness. Dead badgers and sick cows seem to predominate. The main emotional struggles appear to lie with Clover but it is the crumbling of her father, Aubrey that determines the quality of this film.
It feels, as you do, if you drive past a road traffic accident. Rubber-necking, dad used to all it. Voyeurism really. Aubrey has built up a shell; he drove Clover away, or so it seems and he is portrayed as a bitter bully. And yes, he is but he is also so incapable of saying what he feels that his utterances have entirely the opposite effect to his intentions.
I sat, utterly absorbed by this portrayal. In my wider circle, there is one member who is capable of breathtaking rudeness, of behaviour that can appear inexplicably inconsistent and hurtful. Watching Aubrey, the father, taking swipes at Clover, I saw, in microcosm, someone else. And I realised the truth which is the behaviour shown here is all about self protection; if, as in Aubrey’s case, you are sure you will be hurt, you protect yourself in whatever way you can even if that means – especially if that means – driving away the person, or people, that you love but cannot find the ways to express that love that don’t contain the frustrations, anxieties and sores of ages.
As with so much it is about control, of trying to feel like you have a semblance of control.
This isn’t a film for a wet bank holiday or after a national tragedy when you need some sort of feel-goodness but it is a film to see for a visceral unpicking of a certain sort of relationship, of a certain kind of buttoned up emotional response to tragedy.
Throughout the first two thirds of the film it was near impossible to have much sympathy for Aubrey; by the end, while I’d not love him exactly I was incapable of judging him too harshly.
Even with yet another three pound tub of ice cream making me a bit of a grumble-bunny, it was a night well spent. I heartily recommend this underrated gem.