It’s 1969 at a strict English girls’ school where charismatic Abbie and intense and troubled Lydia are best friends. After a tragedy occurs at the school, a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out threatening the stability of all involved.
‘The Falling’ is an intriguing feature debut from documentarian Carol Morley about a fainting epidemic at an English girls school in the late 1960’s. The film focuses on Lydia (played by ‘Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams), a girl in the shadow of her best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh), who is starting to explore her sexuality. Lydia lives at home with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) and her brother Kenneth (Joe Cole), whilst at school she clashes with several of the strict teachers, particularly once the fainting epidemic starts to take a hold on the girls (and some teachers) at the school. ‘The Falling’ feels like a film out of a different time and place, and it captures its time period extremely well.
The film shares similar themes with Peter Weir’s ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, particularly in the films view of female friendship and adolescence in young girls, and Morley captures much of the same mood and atmosphere that made Weir’s film so mysterious. There’s an ethereal feel to some of the sequences, punctuated by Tracey Thorn’s haunting soundtrack, with the fainting depicted almost humorously at times. Morley never seems interested in explaining the reason for the fainting epidemic, leaving it entirely to the audience (and by extension, the characters) to wonder, with the focus more on the impact the epidemic has on the people affected by it. The film is an interesting exploration of the nature of hysteria, with the teachers primarily trying to downplay the effects and putting the fainting down to the girls acting up, but it’s clear there’s something more to it than simple playacting.
The film does move into unsavoury territory with the character of Kenneth (Joe Cole), Lydia’s brother, and the sequences with him and the younger girls are deeply uncomfortable to watch, without a clear statement made about his behaviour. Unfortunately, the clumsy treatment of his behaviour in the script leaves a black cloud over the rest of the film. Overall, ‘The Falling’ has an interesting premise, but I never felt fully connected to its story, with the opaqueness of the narrative leaving me slightly cold.
Directed By: Carol Morley
Starring: Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Florence Pugh, Greta Sacchi, Monica Dolan and Mathew Baynton