tue 20/10/2020

The Falling | reviews, news & interviews

The Falling

The Falling

Fainting, growing pains and the occult in Carol Morley’s seductive filmic waking-dream

Before the fall: Abbie (Florence Pugh) rests upon Lydia (Maisie Williams) in 'The Falling'

The pupils at a girl’s school are afflicted by fainting. It’s spreading. A teacher is affected too. The epidemic began after Lydia and Abbie's friendship has irrevocably ended. Lydia became the first to faint. The school’s headmistress, Miss Alvaro, is determined to ignore what’s going on and ascribe it to baseless hysteria. The stern teacher Miss Mantel is equally unyielding. When medical examinations are finally undertaken, no causes are determined.

The pupils at a girl’s school are afflicted by fainting. It’s spreading. A teacher is affected too. The epidemic began after Lydia and Abbie's friendship has irrevocably ended. Lydia became the first to faint. The school’s headmistress, Miss Alvaro, is determined to ignore what’s going on and ascribe it to baseless hysteria. The stern teacher Miss Mantel is equally unyielding. When medical examinations are finally undertaken, no causes are determined. Lydia is isolated and then expelled as a Typhoid Mary figure.

The Falling is, after Edge, director Carol Morley’s second fiction feature. She is better known for the otherworldly documentary Dreams of a Life. Her new film shares a sense of unreality with her previous work – the world she creates borders on the magical-realist. Passing references to the occult and suggestions of the mystical powers of the landscape feature. At one point, the schoolgirls link hands as if in a ritual.

The Falling_Maxine Peak_Eileen LamontThe Falling is also – again in common with Morley’s other work – about outsiders and those cut off from the rest of society. In the case of Dreams of a Life it was the deceased Joyce Vincent, who had lain dead in her home for over two years before her body was found: Morley sought to recreate elements of Vincent’s life. With The Falling, characters are also somehow apart from the day-to-day world. Lydia’s work-at-home hairdresser mother is agoraphobic and won’t leave the house (pictured right, Maxine Peake).

The setting is rural Oxfordshire in 1969. In the school’s fifth form, Abbie is a rebel – the girl everyone would want to be. Her skirt is too short; she has a love bite and is sexually active. Lydia dotes on her but is buttoned-up and intense. Abbie seems to be growing up and suspects she is pregnant, but Lydia doesn’t want this version of the adult world and their relationship is soon and very suddenly over. Their friendship cannot be revived; the faintings begin. Lydia's brother Kenneth suspects a supernatural cause.

The Falling Florence Pugh AbbieAs the film progresses, the reasons for the fainting become more and more opaque. It may be spontaneous; it may be an escape from adulthood. For Lydia, her home life with a single, shut-in mum may be the trigger. Doctors want to prescribe tranquilisers rather than look for a cause. Reality is further stretched by the nature of the characters' interactions with one another. Many verbal exchanges are flatly telegrammatic. It’s as if the schoolgirls and their teachers are automatons. Are they under a spell? (Pictured left, a Christ-like pose for Maisie Williams's Lydia after she faints.)

Although an ensemble film, Maisie Williams’s Lydia is just one of the stand-out performances. Mostly forceful, her sudden shifts of gear into the pensive and sensitive convince. Conflict is never far. As chain-smoking mother Eileen Lamont, Maxine Peake is towering. Greta Scacchi’s mostly monstrous Miss Mantel is equally striking, while Florence Pugh, new to cinema, is pitch-perfect as the wounded Abbie. Only the brother Kenneth (Joe Cole) is rendered with less assurance. There is also fantastically atmospheric music by Tracey Thorn. Repeated reminders that it is 1969 – a Stylphone being played, a spacewalk seen on TV – are unnecessary.

A disant echo of The Virgin Suicides and Innocence, The Falling also nods to the hyper-real religious allegories of Bruno Dumont and shares its atmosphere with the more fantastic of the early Seventies BBC Play for Today productions. Though shot through with the tenor and themes of Morley’s determinedly singular vision, it’s not necessary to be familiar with anything she has done previously. Taken on its own terms, the film is a winner. This seductive waking-dream is a must-see.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Falling

 

Watch the trailer for The Falling

Morley's new film shares a sense of unreality with her previous work – the world created in 'The Falling' borders on the magical-realist

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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