Writer and director Carol Morley presents a coming-of-age story about teenagers in an all-girls school but one that avoids the expected scenarios of the modern teen movie genre. Setting her tale in the late 1960s, it relies on old-fashioned storytelling methods that are suitably accompanied by beautifully bewitching imagery. The plot centres around Lydia Lamb, a mixed-up girl from a broken home played by Game of Thrones’ starlet Maisie Williams. Always in the shadow of her uber-confident best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh), she yearns to discover herself and where her place is within the disciplined, cliquey society she finds herself in. At home, she is teased by her peculiar older brother Kenneth (Joe Cole) and neglected by her agoraphobic mother Eileen (Maxine Peake), which result in a bout of odd behaviour which strangely begins to spread throughout her classmates.
A promising opening introduces us to the core characters and the environment, inviting us into the close-knit community of pupils and of course the teachers as well. There’s humour and charm in the beginning, giving off an impression of what Mean Girls would have been like, had it taken place in sixties Britain. As the story develops and a bizarre epidemic of fainting takes over in a highly repetitive, and often laughable manner, things take a sour turn as all the hard work in establishing an interesting premise is undone. The impressive cinematography and creative technical flourishes don’t make up for the amateurish writing and abysmal acting.
Williams appears to be unnatural in her performance, and the twitch I assume she attempts to pass off as a nervous tic seems forced and becomes increasingly distracting and irritating as her character becomes more warped and ridiculous. Stuck amongst the awfulness, Florence Pugh brings quality and charisma with her youthfulness, giving a memorable turn as BFF Abbie that unfortunately gets cut short, and of course Maxine Peake steals pretty much every scene she is in with her usual dominating presence.
‘The Falling’ feels like a sorely missed opportunity, starting with the best intentions before becoming lazy and sluggish around the halfway mark and then losing its way completely. Carol Morley definitely has an eye for interesting visuals and some of the camera-work is great, but inconsistent shots and the transitions between them feel as though they’ve been tossed together incoherently and the artistic experimentation applied comes across as being ostentatious. The film actually has a lot in common with the pubescent adolescents within it; full of hormones and desperately seeking attention.