The Falling 

UK Release Date 24th April 2015
Director Carol Morley
Starring Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake
Runtime 102 minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 17th April 2015

Carol Morley’s magnificent film The Falling documents the curious incident of mass fainting at an English girl’s school in the 1950’s. Owing some debt to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (it’s produced by son Luc), Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, it’s a thoughtful, frequently funny and complexing drama with a wonderful cast. 

The wonderful Maisie Williams is on rare form as Lydia, a typically cruel teenager and bright young thing whose difficult home life includes an agoraphobic mother as cold as a dead fish and Kenneth, a sexual predator for an older brother. Lydia has one great pleasure in life – her somewhat posh school and and her friendship with the enchanting Abbie. Sexually advanced, full lipped and full-bodied, Abbie’s sexuality comes between the girls with the cruel force as only the love teenage girls have for each other can. Theirs is as close as relationships go. It is the world. For Lydia, Abbie is everything but also with that at fierce love comes jealousy and hatred and a desire to be more like Abbie. It’s a whirling, uncontrollable tornado of hormones and feelings. 

Abbie reveals that she is pregnant and this begins the breakdown in her friendship with Lydia. As the cracks start to creep further and grow wider the girls begin to faint. As if the power of the pain Lydia is feeling has caused a ripple of emotion to seep into the school and start affecting the girls physically. Is it magic or mischief? The teachers certainly think the latter with Lydia being singled out as ringleader but then the young art teacher faints and we definitely see wobbles from Miss Alvaro. Is the magic spreading?

The notion of fainting, the physical beauty in some ways of the utter collapse and surrender of the human body. The helplessness in the action. The utter loss of control. There are many things that make fainting fascinating and mass fainting an enchanting and intriguing phenomenon. As a teenage girl I certainly had preoccupation with fainting, it was something I wanted to do happen to me. To my teenage self it was romantic. The effect it has in Morley’s movie is more powerful. Morley has herself said she obsessed with mass hysteria, especially in young females. Immense powers of suggestion among young females, coupled with burgeoning sexuality and frustration, these are powerful elements indeed. There was a case in Bolivia where 240 teens were hospitalised with symptoms including fainting and shortness of breath and there are countless other cases documented. Before making the movie Morley made Madness of The Dance that dipped a toe in the water of mass psychogenic illness. In preparation for the film Morley says she watched Ken Russell’s The Devils and she was also influenced by Picnic at Hanging Rock

The girls twist themselves in a strange hypnotic dance before sinking to the ground in a balletic fashion. Physical markers preface the mass fainting: an eye twitch, a physical movement then the girls begin a dream like, hypnotic dance as if they are possessed. It’s quite disturbing and beautifully executed. I was more than happy to let the mythology and witchcraft run riot in my mind, teenage girls are a heady breed and mythology and witchcraft would be a rich brew indeed. Ultimately though isn’t all this fainting and sorcery underlining a basic need, particularly in teenagers, to be accepted, to feel like they belong?    

An integral part of the woozy atmosphere is Tracey Thorn’s superb score, it adds beautifully to the retro atmosphere. Thorn’s music is melded with the girl’s hypnotic playing in Abbie’s ‘alternative orchestra’, the constant roll of a wooden stick continuously up and down on the xylophone with some simple accompaniments, an occasional triangle and Abbie’s languid harmonies underscores all of the drama. It bleeds into the film and whirls around in to create a haze of auditory and visual intoxication.   

The Falling is an almost exclusively female cast. Matthew Baynton pops up in a cameo-like role as science teacher and Joe Cole is chillingly good as bad boy Kenneth but this is really all about the girls. Maisie Williams who of course most will know, as Arya from Games of Thrones is on rare form as complex Lydia. It’s role and a performance that will propel her skywards. Likewise the entrancing newcomer Abbie Pugh dazzles as Abbie, definitely one to watch. More familiar faces in Maxine Peake, Monica Dolan and Greta Scaachi don’t disappoint, Morley has imbued every character with enough story. Greta Scaachi is unrecognisable as strict teacher Miss Mantel, as we see her layers get peeled away through the fear of what is happening of the girls it’s a stunning transformation. Monica Dolan is also terribly good and the provider of some much needed humour as chain-smoking head teacher Miss Alvaro

Morley constantly brings us back to the lake with a weeping willow hanging over it, reflected in the still waters or rainy waters. It’s a mirror reflection and the girls worship the tree itself. Abbie and Lydia’s names are etched there forever, Abbie says let’s meet under the tree once a year forever until we die. The words echo constantly throughout the film. The willow has long been associated with mythology and witchcraft. Most famously Orpheus took willow branches with him to the underworld and the goddess Helice had priestesses who also employed willow in their magic.The willow is also heavily associated with grief and death, the very name weeping willow supporting the idea. In the 1500's those who had lost lovers wore crowns or hats made form willow branches.  Certainly there is suggestion of the occult or witchcraft; Kenneth tries to associate the fainting with Ley lines and the occult.

In Short:

The Falling is a wonderful piece of film making by Carol Morley, it is a triumph. Morley’s film is complex, intelligent, spellbinding, ethereal, mysterious; It’s beguiling, often funny and dramatic. So you may wonder what exactly is Morley saying in The Falling then? Well I think she is saying: make your own mind up. As with Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock there aren’t definite answers. She has provided the audience with enough crumbs for each viewer to go off on their own trail to find their own summations. I’m sure when I watch it again I will discover a whole new view on what is happening; and I think that is simply wonderful. 

You can read our interview with Carol Morley here

Check out the trailer here.

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