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Falling for a Dream

Alexandra Greenfield

It is hard to describe the feeling experienced when watching Carol Morley’s latest cinematic offering, The Falling. At once hypnotic in its effect, this film entices the spectator with a world so tangible it does, at times, feel as if one has quite literally fallen through the screen into this strange yet familiar world. Hints of the supernatural bubble under the surface in this tale of misplaced sexual desire, the sensuous cinematography at times suggesting a world beyond our grasp, while simultaneously rooting the spectator in the gritty realties of the late 1960s.

It is this quality which makes Morley’s film such a delight to watch. Opening with idyllic shots of a picturesque English lake landscape in Autumn, the spectator is then assaulted with a barrage of images, indistinguishable from one another, throwing them back into a concrete world of chain smoking, short skirts, and defiant sexual encounters. This, combined with a tantalising soundscape, which causes the images to sizzle like the headteacher’s ever present cigarette, makes this film an explosively textile experience. The images tease us with their tactility and one can almost feel the shared breath of the protagonists as they lie entwined upon a bed, the heat of their flushed cheeks escaping far beyond the confines of the screen.

The story follows a group of students in an all-girls school in England in 1969. Maisie Williams excellently conveys the sense of defiant teenage frustration which fuels her character, Lydia ‘Lamb’ Lamont, a sixteen-year-old girl negotiating a complex changing relationship with her best friend Abby, played by Florence Pugh. After the death of Abby, there ensues an epidemic of hysterical fainting at the school, with the girls displaying the same ecstatic symptoms expressed by the more sexually experienced Abby just before her death. Cue scenes of girls dancing themselves into a faint, while the exasperated teachers, played brilliantly by Monica Dolan and Greta Scacchi, struggle in vain to contain this unexplained outbreak of hysteria.

While Williams and Pugh make a dynamic couple, and imbue the film with an expressive vitality, it is the older, supporting cast that makes this film so very watchable. Scacchi brings a certain poignancy to her portrayal of the authoritarian Miss Mantel, offering only hints at some unnamed event which has forced her into this position. Her brief moments of tenderness, captured beautifully by the highly exploratory camera, are some of the most moving in the whole film. Maxine Peake, excellent as always, brings just the right about of fragility and bitterness to her part, playing Lydia’s distant mother with troubling sincerity.

The joy of this film is the manner in which Morley plays with ambiguity. Just enough is given that we are captured by the story, yet throughout the offbeat rhythmic styling of the film keeps the spectator on their toes, always one step ahead, preventing us from ever really knowing quite what is happening, or why. Indeed, the main flaw in the film is the ending, which seeks to tie up, just a little bit too neatly, some of the ends which have come loose during the film. This brief foray into the melodramatic certainly does not diminish the film’s potency, but it adds little to what was already an extremely satisfactory conclusion.

The Falling cements Morley’s position as one of the most exciting British film directors working today. Following on from her 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life, this film confirms Morley’s ability to articulate a challenging story through that wonderfully cinematic combination of sincerity and magic. The Falling is a film worth savouring; a tantalising taster of cinematic potential.

Alexandra Greenfield is reading for a Master of Studies in Film Aesthetics at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.