The Falling - Film Review
'Game Of Thrones'' Maisie Williams stars in an eerie '60s-set drama scored by Tracey Thorn
Written and directed by Carol Morley (sister of former NME journalist Paul), The Falling tells the mysterious story of a fainting epidemic at a girls’ school in 1969. Following a tragic incident that devastates her friendship group, headstrong student Lydia (Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones) falls into a trance-like state during a lesson and faints. Soon, many of her friends and the school’s youngest teacher are exhibiting similar symptoms. Played formidably by Bafta-winning Appropriate Adult actress Monica Dolan, fag-puffing headmistress Miss Alvaro is initially sceptical, convinced Lydia is acting up.
However, Morley’s film – rendered in lush, murky hues by French cinematographer Agnès Godard, who worked on 2006’s Golden Door – doesn’t provide anything like as simple a conclusion. The 49-year-old’s last feature, 2011’s Dreams Of A Life, was a docu-drama that attempted to join the dots in the sad story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a reclusive London woman whose decomposed corpse lay undiscovered in her bedsit for three years after her death in 2003. Even though The Falling is fictional, Morley based it on extensive research into mass hysteria and its links to sexuality, and the film benefits from her obvious flair for handling ambiguous subject matter.
We’re given several reasons to presume Lydia’s fainting is an extreme form of attention seeking, particularly her strained relationship with her agoraphobic single mother, played with gruff emotional distance by Maxine Peake. However, as the film speedily unspools, there are suggestions that something more sinister is afoot. Lydia’s older brother Kenneth (Peaky Blinders‘ Joe Cole) is fascinated by the occult and cryptically tells his sister the school is situated close to a historic leyline. The intrigue deepens when Lydia undergoes a shocking sexual awakening, fully justifying Morley’s description of the film as a “twisted coming of age story”.
Morley played in short-lived 1980s Manchester band TOT before becoming a filmmaker, and has said her “way in to a project is often through music”. Here, she’s helped by a wonderfully evocative, gently psychedelic score from Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn, whose unpolished compositions are designed to echo the music played by the girls’ Alternative School Orchestra. Williams conveys Lydia’s infuriating complexities brilliantly, but Pugh more than matches her. As their friendship frays, Abbie’s captivating, otherworldly presence looms large over The Falling, and she holds the key to Morley’s haunting film.