The plot of the 102 minute film “The Falling” centers around a puzzling, fainting epidemic at an all-girls school in England, in 1969. “Game of Thrones” Maisie Williams gives a nuanced performance, portraying sixteen year old, Lydia Lamont, a strong-willed, complex character. Her best friend in the movie, Abbie Mortimer is an attractive, intelligent, but also rebellious teen played by Florence Pugh, who made her screen debut in the film. In addition to a scene which shows Lydia and Abbie carving their names into a tree, it is alluded to that the two share everything, and that Abbie is a regular visitor to Lydia’s home. Their closeness, however, begins to wane, when Abbie reveals to Lydia that she had sex with a guy in his car, which has resulted in her becoming pregnant.
The compelling and enigmatic film was written and directed by BAFTA nominee, Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life). While writing and directing her film, Morley was inspired by BAFTA winning director Peter Weir’s film “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” and BAFTA nominee Lindsay Anderson’s movie “If.” Additionally, having been interested in the concept of mass hysteria for some time, Morley first explored the subject in her 2006 short film “The Madness of the Dance.” “The Falling,” which is parts drama and mystery, premiered at the London Film Festival on October 11, 2014. Credit must also be given to Agnes Godard (Golden Door) for her striking cinematography; as well as Tracey Thorn’s (Everything but the Girl) composition, her first for a film, which effectively captures what is taking place on screen.
Lydia’s home life is less than ideal, beginning with the fact that her father has never been involved in her life. Lydia’s mother, played by two time BAFTA nominee Maxine Peake (The Village), is a hairdresser, who has her customers come to her home; a place, according to Lydia, she hasn’t left in years. Kenneth (Joe Cole), Lydia’s brother, also lives in the house, and much to his sister’s dismay, he and Abbie have sex. Their lustful action will lead to Lydia making a confounding choice later on in the film.
The unwanted pregnancy is something that Abbie doesn’t have to concern herself with for too long. One day, while walking in the school hallway with Lydia, Abbie collapses with a nosebleed. She has fainted before, but this time, sadly, she will not be getting back up. Weather in an attempt to keep Lydia’s passing from becoming a reality in her mind, or as a way to cope with the loss of her best friend, Lydia begins to imitate Abbie, including her fainting spells. Soon afterward, Lydia’s other classmates, as well as certain members of the school’s staff, also begin to faint. Is there something physically wrong with the girls of the school or the members of the staff who are fainting? Is there something in the water they drink or a toxin in the air they breathe that no one is aware of? Did the same harmful substance, whatever it may be, lead to Abbie eventually dying at such a young age? Are the girls, perhaps, just merely following Lydia’s lead because they want to rebel against the restrictive atmosphere of the school, as well as adult society in general?
The school is run by the headmistress, Miss Alvaro, who is played by BAFTA winner, Monica Dolan (Appropriate Adult). In-between the constant inhaling of cigarette smoke into her lungs, she outright dismisses the girls’ fainting as nothing more than pretend. Additionally, she confides to no-nonsense, veteran teacher, Miss Mantel, played by Emmy winner, Greta Scacchi (Rasputin), that if the teen girls think they are misunderstood now, wait until they find out how life is for middle age women. After one particular mass fainting episode transpires in front of a guest speaker at a school assembly, the problem can no longer be kept contained within the school. A number of the girls are hospitalized, and issued a battery of tests to determine what, if anything, is wrong with them.
What will the outcome of those tests be? Are the girls being slowly sickened by something that neither they nor those who run the school are aware of? Have they collectively, including members of staff, been faking their fainting, as a means of seeking not only escape from the rules and regulations of the school, but as a cry for attention? What will ultimately happen to Lydia? Will she accept Abby’s passing and move on with her life in a positive way? Does she make poor choices in a warped attempt to emulate her deceased friend? Why does her mother behave the way she does? While many of the questions I posed will be answered by the conclusion of the movie, other aspects are left ambiguous for the viewer to decide, in the slow moving, but no less effective, film.