THE FALLING (UK/16/102mins)
Directed by Carol Morley. Starring Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Florence Pugh, Anna Burnett, Greta Scacchi, Rose Caton, Monica Dolan, Morfydd Clark.

THE PLOT: Set in an all-girls school in England, 1969, best friends Lydia (Williams) and Abbie (newcomer Pugh) are struggling with everyday teenage issues – such as, you know, pregnancy, and your brother getting off with the girl you secretly desire – when the wobble in their friendship triggers a strange psychogenic illness that’s soon gripping their classmates. This mass hysteria boasts such perplexing symptoms as fainting, nausea, severe headaches and convulsions, and its origins may be in the raging hormones, a sexual awakening, or it could just be linked to Lydia’s difficult relationship with her agoraphobic mother (Peake).

THE VERDICT: Inspired by real-life mass hysteria cases around the world – and, in particular, the 240 pre-teen and teenage girls in El Carmen de Bolivar, northern Colombia, hospitalised due to shortness of breath, headaches, nausea and fainting spells – Carol Morley’s second feature (after 2011’s true-life docudrama DREAMS OF A LIFE) is a sensual and seductive affair. Shades of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, SWEETIE, INNOCENCE and HEAVENLY CREATURES abound, but Morley is enough of a culture vulture to make this tale her own.

She’s aided and abetted beautifully by Williams and Pugh, whilst Morley regular Peake struggles to make an impact, even if her caged character is a crucial part of the jigsaw.

Capturing the magic and tragic that comes with lust’s first kiss, THE FALLING may not tread new ground here, but it does stand on its own two feet. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to my Born To Pun class.

Review by Paul Byrne

The Falling
Review by Paul Byrne
4.0Magic and tragic
  • filmbuff2011

    British director Carol Morley follows up her excellent but desperately sad documentary Dreams Of A Life with The Falling. It’s 1969 and the UK is on the verge of the sexual revolution. Schoolgirl Lydia (Maisie Williams) remains untouched, but her best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh) has already experienced first love. Abby’s the popular, pretty one but she’s also the troubled one. Getting sick and believing herself to be pregnant, she develops fainting fits, much to the displeasure of the prim, strict Miss Mantel (Greta Scacchi). It’s not just her though – soon Lydia is fainting on the spot and causing disquiet among all the other girls in school. It soon spreads like an epidemic, as pupils and teachers alike faint without warning. Or are they? Is it just mass hysteria and herd mentality behaviour? Morley draws on a number of films for inspiration, such as If… and particularly Picnic At Hanging Rock. There’s even a bit of The Crucible in there too, as a witch hunt of sorts takes place at the school and Lydia’s home as well, where her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) is none too impressed with her newly liberated daughter. But this is clearly writer/director Morley’s film, making her own distinctive stamp on it. There’s a dreamy, intoxicating atmosphere to it, particularly in the school hall sequence involving a mass fainting. It develops into some sort of twisted ballet sequence which border on the bizarre. The performances are honest and convincing. We already know that Williams has undeniable talent, so it’s Pugh who is the real find here. Sadly, there isn’t enough of her in the film and her absence is felt later on when Morley seems uncertain of how to resolve the story. Instead, it goes out with a whimper rather than a roar. The Falling is certainly a good film, but for this reviewer it fell just short of being truly great. ***