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 authorities claim that there is nothing seriously wrong, but Lydia refuses to accept this, and in seeking the truth, discovers a long buried secret.
Written and directed by Carol Morley, The Falling is a drama with a difference. Set in an all-girls school in England during the late 1960s, best friends Abigail and Lydia are growing up and growing apart.
Abigail (Florence Pugh) is the adventurous and sexually confident of the two, whilst Lydia (Maisie Williams) the more reserved. The girls share a history together including Sapphic undertones quintessential of girl’s schools. To this end, Morley captures those looks and touches carefully; the echoes of feelings never spoken but only implied.
Things take an intriguing turn when Abigail begins fainting. This triggers a spell of similar incidents throughout the school. We are then posed the question: is it hysteria or something more occult?
The young cast play their parts naturally, pulled between adolescence and adulthood and the confusions which come with the territory. Unsurprisingly Morley is able to bring out these arrested states with her keen documentary eye.
The school is Victorian-ish, stern and feels like it’s brimming with secrets. Yet this fortress is punctuated with folkish scenery and woozy musical accompaniment. In this way The Falling reminded me of Suspiria or something Ken Russell would have cooked up. Such is the tapestry of audio and visual artistry that Morley layers throughout the story.
The importance of the film’s setting goes beyond aesthetics. The 1960s was a time characterised by change and mysticism, and this zeitgeist is very much present in the narrative. Change and movement permeates the character’s lives in very compelling and unavoidable ways, yet stranger still is a feeling that everything is anchored firmly down, preventing progress. Whether this force is real or not is up to you to decide.
The Falling is a beguiling drama bred with mystery and art. This engaging feature pulls its audience, as much as its characters, along on an intense visceral experience. It is certainly a story which enjoys more than one viewing in order to indulge the layers of interpretation waiting to be discovered.
If you feel like your head is in a spin after watching it, then I suspect it has done what it was supposed to.