Genre: Drama, Mystery
Directed by: Carol Morley
Starring: Maxine Peake, Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Anna Burnett
Carol Morley’s latest film, The Falling, is undoubtedly an impressively challenging piece of cinema. Indeed, when this writer first saw it during its general release earlier this year, he was left in equal parts fascinated by the hypnotic visuals and swooning story, and frustrated by what he (wrongly, in retrospect) considered to be the film’s foggy and neurotic nature. For The Falling is, upon first watch, as bewitching as it is bewildering to experience, which therefore makes repeat viewings essential if you are to truly realise what a remarkable piece of work it is.
Set amongst the lush, idyllic grounds of an English girls’ school in the late 60s, we begin by being introduced to best friends Lydia (Maisie Williams, channelling both the insecurities and strength honed by her role as Arya in Game of Thrones) and Abbie (newcomer Florence Pugh, natural and nuanced), two teenagers on the cusp of womanhood. Neglected by her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake, magnificent as ever), Lydia has become dependent on attention from Abbie, who has just begun to explore her own sexuality. Inevitably, cracks start to form within their relationship. And soon, the emotional fallout from their friendship has manifested itself in the guise of a fainting epidemic that sweeps through the school, with grave repercussions for both girls.An evident narrative influence for Morley, who both writes and directs here, is Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Like Weir, Morley revels in the asking of questions, but not in the answering of them; she’s refreshingly confident enough in allowing her audience to reach their own conclusions. But in terms of tone and texture, Morley’s film shares many more similarities with the work of Nicolas Roeg.
Editor Chris Wyatt pristinely pieces together Agnès Godard’s rich photography, crafting a strikingly sensual collage of still and intimate imagery that’s suffused with the lingering tones of Tracey Thorn’s haunting soundtrack. Meaning seeps from every visual pore; it’s an evocative, enigmatic and entrancing experience.
Throughout, Morley shows herself to be a director who’s delicate and distinctive. She sets her story up slowly, perhaps even sluggishly, allowing the ambiguous atmosphere to envelop the viewer like a thick fog. As the plot progresses, we’re able to see something poignant and poetic within the haze. But, like staring at a stereogram, Morley encourages you to look deeper in order to find the real meaning. It may take one viewing, it may take fifty, but it’s worth all the effort; this is profound and perplexing cinematic perfection.