“What’s a man I’ve never met got to do with all of this?”
Having cast an eye over the reviews for Carol Morley’s The Falling, I was interested to see how well it has been received by real cinephiles, their writing suffused with cinematic references to the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Lucile Hadžihalilović, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man. I was interested because the film really turned me off, despite containing many things that I love – not least a cast with Monica Dolan and Maxine Peake and a score by Tracey Thorn, late of Everything But The Girl.
Set in 1969, The Falling concerns an outbreak of what we now call mass psychogenic illness, aka hysterical fainting at an English girls’ school. At the heart of it are best friends Lydia and Abbie, the latter’s exploration of her sexuality (namely by sleeping with the former’s brother) sparking an intensification of feeling which leads to tragedy. And as a result, an epidemic of fainting spells sweeps the school, affecting even staff, unleashing its own torrent of private truths about Lydia’s family circumstances.
Morley’s film-making is full of heady atmosphere and artistic flourishes and this is clearly where she has garnered many fans. But for me, it just too self-conscious, pretentious even, as a real imposition on the telling of a story, a didactic setting of a mood that felt studiously inorganic from the start. Flickering fast-cut sequences from cinematographer Agnès Godard add little, Thorn’s plaintive songs end up overused in endless montages and for all its wilful, woozy obtuseness, it can’t help but rush out hasty explanations in a sentimental finale.
And stranded in this strange world, Maisie Williams does what she can as Lydia, stronger earlier on as she bristles against change and authority, but marooned by the ending. Peake as her agoraphobic mother quivers with unease and Monica Dolan and Greta Scacchi are sorely misused as distant, even hyper-real teachers with over-exaggerated tendencies. Florence Pugh’s debutant Abbie does well though and is well off out of it early on. Sadly not one to remember.