Abbie (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) are best friends, and each other’s voice of friendship and reason at the strict school they attend. Although they do almost everything together, Abbie is worldly in a way Lydia is not, and after tragedy strikes, Lydia finds herself at the centre of a mysterious fainting epidemic that befalls the school.
The Falling, for all that it tries to be original – and succeeds a lot of the time – feels very much like it was inspired by The Crucible and, although it tries to deliver a clear message, sometimes gets lost in the journey toward the resolution.
Maisie Williams continues in her streak of choosing great roles outside of her work on Game of Thrones, and makes Lydia a charismatic and feisty character. She is not always one who the audience can understand, but it is with Lydia that our sympathies lie, even when she marches purposefully in the wrong direction. Florence Pugh is engaging and charming as Abbie, and her chemistry with Williams is wonderful to watch on screen; the two are easy and natural in one another’s company, and it is easy to believe that these two have been friends for a long time. Joe Cole does well as perhaps the single male influence on Lydia, and Maxine Peake does well as Lydia’s agoraphobic mother Eileen.
Carol Morley’s screenplay presents as a supernatural mystery with a touch of hysteria, and she does a great job with the dialogue and the relationship between the girls on screen. The trouble is that the screenplay seems so focused on the symptoms of the mystery at the heart of the film that it never truly allows the audience to make their mind up about what’s happening in the school; is this a calculated attempt at subversion or is there something supernatural at play? It’s hard to tell.
As director, Morley sets up the world on a 1960s girls’ school rather well, and does well at making the beautiful building and grounds feel claustrophobic and austere. Morley allows the mystery to build, and along with it some uncomfortable relationships, but while the relationships are given time to play out on screen, the mystery simply deepens, then never goes anywhere.
In all, The Falling is two thirds of a fascinating movie. Williams and Pugh are great together on screen, and Williams brings delightful fight and ambiguity to her character. The troubfle arises in the final act where, it seems, Morley struggled to find answers to the questions she created.