BFI London Film Festival Review: The Falling (2014)

falling

In her first prominent feature-length film, director and screenwriter Carol Morley brings to the screen a thought-provoking mystery drama with The Falling, an expertly crafted piece on the strange spectacle of mass psychogenic illness in countryside England.

In 1969, Lydia (Maisie Williams) and Abbie (Florence Pugh) are two best friends at an English girls’ school. Having been emotionally abandoned by her mother (Maxine Peake), Lydia seeks the approval and love of the charismatic Abbie, fixating on her with a strange possessiveness. When Abbie loses her virginity, the two begin to drift apart; Lydia projects her feelings of inadequacy onto those around her whilst Abbie becomes exaggeratedly carefree and oblivious to her friend’s turmoil. Lydia’s fragile world takes a turn for the worst and starts on a downwards spiral after the school falls under mysterious delirium, and her erratic behaviour becomes clouded with suspicion and doubt.

Maisie Williams gives a stellar performance as the unhinged Lydia, a far cry from her cold-blooded character in television’s Game of Thrones. Newcomer Florence Pugh is dazzling, and, although brief, her performance brings Abbie’s spirited magnetism to life with a perception well beyond her years. The two have an incredible chemistry and as their friendship slowly tears apart, the audience is drawn into the tumultuous relationship between them. The supporting actresses who play the school girls are all potential future stars, the entire group showing promise of great careers with their brilliant performances as the classmates of Lydia and Abbie who fall victim to the reverberations of the mystery illness.

The supporting actresses who play the school girls are all potential future stars, the entire group showing promise of great careers with their brilliant performances as the classmates of Lydia and Abbie who fall victim to the reverberations of the mystery illness. Within this female-centric cast, acting veteran Greta Scacchi, stage sensation Monica Dolan and rising star Morfydd Clark, as well as the lone male, Mathew Baynton of Horrible Histories’ fame, brilliantly play the teachers at the school, all harbouring secrets of their own.

Giving insight into the fractured minds of teenage girls, The Falling is a film that both studies and preserves the often overlooked and understated power of female adolescents, all the while unfailingly capturing the turbulent emotions and inner conflicts they endure. Having delved far into the history and treatment of women’s mass hysteria, Morley’s extensive research into the peculiar phenomenon is evident, and creates a surreal ambience that adds to the film’s believability as a fascinating exploration of the supposed madness of the young women.

In every frame of the two hour long feature the 1960s atmosphere is captured, but in such a contemporary fashion that it is unnerving and odd in its powerful arousal of interest and curiosity. With startling similarities to Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Crucible, this haunting tale of mass hysteria is a masterpiece that takes you on a wild yet eerie rollercoaster of emotions, enrapturing you every step of the way. A stunningly crafted cinematic triumph, The Falling is a modern classic unlikely to be forgotten in years to come.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Falling is due for a theatrical release in 2015.

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One Response to BFI London Film Festival Review: The Falling (2014)

  1. tony flynn says:

    It was clear that Carol Morley was a talented director when she made Dreams of a Life (2011). Her latest film deals with a more unusual but riskier subject. Having read this review and Peter Bradshaw’s equally positive review in The Guardian, I intend to show the film at my u3a film group in spring 2015 as part of a Women in Film Season. Both reviewers have pointed to parallels with the superb Australian film, Picnic at Hanging Rock – I’ll be interested to see the audience reaction to the film!

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