DIR/WRI: Carol Morley • PRO: Luc Roeg, Cario Cannon • DOP: Agnès Godard • ED: Chris Wyatt • CAST: Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Maxine Peake, Monica Dolan, Greta Scacchi
In The Falling, Carol Morley follows up her memorable documentary feature, Dreams of a Life (2011), with an equally mysterious piece of fiction. Set in a pitch-perfect evocation of 1960s England, The Falling involves an inexplicable epidemic of fainting spells that sweeps a girls’ school in the aftermath of a tragic event.
The narrative centres on a pair of girls, Lydia (Maisie Williams) and Abbie (Florence Pugh), whose contrasting personalities and symbiotic relationship stirs faint memories of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994). Williams is highly credible as the sullen and acerbic half of the pair, although newcomer Pugh arguably steals the film in the less showy part of the otherworldly Abbie. Of the adults, Greta Scacchi and Monica Dolan contribute sharply-etched turns as a prim teacher and a dismissive headmistress, respectively, while Morfydd Clark makes an impression in a small part as the only “adult” to be affected by the fainting spells that spread like wildfire through the student body.
The ever-fine Maxine Peake has a tricky role as Lydia’s agoraphobic mother, remaining aloof for the bulk of the film before delivering a series of last-minute revelations that have the unintended effect of sapping some of the film’s alluring ambiguity. Morley’s decision to provide a partial solution to one of The Falling‘s central mysteries sets it apart from its most obvious antecedent, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). While some may be disappointed that The Falling is rather more literal-minded than it initially appears, Morley’s decision to privilege the lived experiences of her adolescent protagonists over their symbolic qualities sets her film apart from the fascinated, but remote, gaze of Weir’s classic. Like Lucille Hadzihaliovic’s ravishing Innocence (2004) and Jordan Scott’s unfairly overlooked Cracks (2009), The Falling has empathy and rigour that cuts against the potentially objectifying qualities of the long-standing “mysterious schoolgirls” subgenre.
Claire Denis’ regular cinematographer Agnès Godard provides beautifully burnished images throughout, proving equally adept with the uncomfortable intimacy of Lydia’s suburban home and the eerie beauty of the exteriors. Chris Wyatt’s editing is also striking, tempering the dreamlike pacing of the film with flash-cut imagery that lends a genuinely disorienting edge to the fainting sequences. These sequences, like the film in general, are immeasurably enhanced by a marvellously evocative score by the great Tracey Thorn. Equally sensual and naïve, childlike and world-weary, Thorn’s unmistakable voice perfectly catches the tone of the film, and goes a long way to maintaining Morley’s intoxicating mood through the occasional bumpy patch.
16 (See IFCO for details)
The Falling is released 24th April 2015