Two riveting and very different films. The first, The Levelling, is a dramatization of a rural situation that is sadly not unknown in the farming community.
On the death of her brother in what her father, played admirably by David Troughton, insists on describing as an accidental death, Clover leaves college and returns home to the flood damaged family farm on the Somerset Levels.
Reeling from one disaster to another, farms are at the mercy of disease which affects the cattle; floods which affect the buildings and stock and low food prices which often mean that things like insurance get left behind and so a manageable disaster can quickly turn into complete collapse.
The foot and mouth disease that hit Cumbria badly was followed by two separate incidents of severe flooding; Somerset Levels being in the West Country is prone to tuberculosis, carried by badgers, it affects the cattle and the Levels were affected by catastrophic flooding in 2014.
This feature length film by Hope Dickson Leach follows the trajectory of this one young farmer’s death, linking it to other details that are slowly revealed. The measured pace of the unravelling of the narrative: the rigours of farm work when animals must be milked, driven in and out of water logged fields relentlessly, no matter what family heartbreak makes it almost impossible to get up in the morning, are all shown in this emotional film.
Farming is a tough business, Clover has long left the farm and taken two degrees and is nearly through her veterinary training. She returns days after her brother’s death for the funeral and for some frank discussions with her father, and some searching conversations with her brother’s best friend. Ellie Kendrick puts in a nuanced performance as Clover, even more telling in the many silent moments as tension mounts while a slow truth emerges.
The music in the film, which by the way was made by an almost totally female crew, was by Hutch Demoulpieds, it has an unearthly, haunting quality which fully complements the fractured lives of the Cotta family.
Produced as part of the iFeatures scheme, funded by the BBC, the BFI and Creative England it will launch the career of a talent better known for shorter documentaries.
Dancer, the second film I saw today is in another order of film making all together.
The young prodigy, Sergei Polunin, at one time the youngest principal at the Royal Ballet, is occasionally compared to Rudolf Nureyev; but apart from the fact they were both Russian, though Nureyev was born on a train and Polunin was born in the Ukraine, and both dancers, the similarities quickly fall away at this point.
Sergei’s parents gave up a great deal to make it possible for him to train as a dancer (with his skills he would either have become a gymnast or a dancer) and his father left Ukraine for work in Portugal and his grandmother went to work in Greece; this sacrifice enabled Sergei to move with his mother to Kiev, and from there to the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park, aged only 13.
Polunin was born to be a star. His technique and drive meant that he was processed quickly through the schools he attended, passing in one year through three stages at the Royal Ballet School and ending up aged 19 as a principal dancer on the London stage.
The pressure eventually caught up with him and he left the Royal Ballet in the lurch, to the shock and dismay of the Establishment (and his fans) and drifted back to Russia, where unaccountably he found himself virtually unknown. To achieve status therefore he went in for a Russian Ballet Competition – Strictly Come Dancing for ballet hopefuls – which he won; and achieved in a single TV show the star rating that it took five years at the Royal Ballet to attain.
However, soon the work, the restrictions and the glitter wore off, and although still at the height of his ability, once again Polunin quit. This time, he said, it was forever. He got in touch with his dearest friend, Jade Hale-Christofi, also a dancer at the Royal Ballet and asked him to choreograph a final personal ballet statement.
The result can be seen on vimeo if you search for Polunin, “Take Me to the Church” by Hozier.
Mercifully, it turned out to be part of the recovery and Polunin has found a new direction and is dancing again. He came to the Q&A after the film with the film’s director Steven Cantor and also Jade and a few others. We were promised a surprise and when Sergei walked in he was greeted by a standing ovation in a full cinema. Believe me, that does not happen very often.
This film also has UK distribution and will be in cinemas on March 14th