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Review: Ellie Kendrick is riveting in British farm drama ‘The Levelling’

Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton in the film "The Levelling."
(Monterey Media / Monterey Media)

Set on a dairy farm in southwestern England, “The Levelling” is a modestly scaled, superbly crafted drama with a powerful sense of place. Among the handful of characters in Hope Dickson Leach’s impressive first feature are a dead man and the land itself, all mud and muck and secrets.

Those secrets are forced to the surface, piece by piece, with the return of Clover (Ellie Kendrick), a veterinarian-in-training, to her family’s struggling, flood-ravaged Somerset farm after the death of her brother. Everyone, including the police, calls the shooting a suicide, but her father, Aubrey (David Troughton), insists it was an accident. As Clover tries to ferret out the truth about her brother’s final hours, she and Aubrey stir up long-festering resentments, and farmhand James (Jack Holden) brings new ones to the mix.

Telling her story with inventive economy, the writer-director makes the most of the limited locations. Avoiding conventional flashbacks, Leach turns the deceased young man into a haunting presence. Yet for all the potent depictions of a tough rural life, the succession of two-person conversations can have a stage-bound feel, and the accumulation of almost relentless gloom lessens the impact of the climactic moments.

But the performances never falter. Kendrick and Troughton deftly hint at the tenderness beneath their characters’ mutual animosity. Told from Clover’s perspective, the film belongs to Kendrick, and the shifting play of emotion on her face — suspicious, accusatory, aggrieved, guilty — is nothing less than riveting.

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‘The Levelling’

Rating: R, for language and brief nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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