Girls on the verge of a breakdown...
Writer/director Carol Morley’s follow-up to sad, mysterious breakthrough Dreams Of A Life confirms her place among a new wave of British filmmakers – among them Andrea Arnold, Clio Barnard, Steve McQueen, Ben Wheatley and Peter Strickland – intent on fashioning personal, challenging, mood-soaked dramas.
Set at an austere girls’ school in 1969, The Falling centres on the tight bond between the bright Lydia (Game Of Thrones’ Maisie Williams) and beautiful, precocious Abbie (newcomer Florence Pugh). Sadly, at 16, BFFs are prone to be torn asunder by external and internal forces, and so it proves when Abbie confides that she’s no longer a virgin, describing orgasm as “a little death”.
A sliver of space opens up between the girls and the air is further contaminated by Lydia’s dysfunctional relationship with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake). Abbie faints, perhaps because she’s pregnant, perhaps from the emotional tumult, then Lydia does too, sparking a curious swooning epidemic as wobbly kneed girls drop like pins.
Though never attaining the woozy atmospheric heights of Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock (a clear influence, along with Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures and Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides), The Falling does tremble with something mystical all its own.
Lensed by Claire Denis’ DoP Agnès Godard and gilded with a bewitching score by Tracey Thorn, it places the repression of young women, sexual and otherwise, front and centre – it’s no accident that Morley’s film sits like a bead of sweat on the lip of the ’70s, with the fight for gender equality about to explode.
But there’s more going on, too: talk of a ley line running under the school and a sense of Englishness present in the social mores and mannerisms, in the damp countryside and pregnant skies, in each adult denial and every moment of deadpan comedy. Ambiguity is The Falling’s currency, and it’s all the richer for it.