Every other movie nowadays seems to feature at least one member of the Game of Thrones cast, but I haven't seen Maisie Williams in anything else except the hilarious short called The Olympic Ticket Scalper, with Sir Patrick Stewart, which can be watched online and should be soon. She's made a couple of other features, Heatstroke and Gold, but this was the first one that I've had a chance to see.
It turns out to be a surprising picture, something of a British version of Picnic at Hanging Rock, set in a girls school in the late sixties where a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out. The only difference is that this one has at least a token explanation for some of what goes on, though I'm still juggling a few theories as to much of the rest.
Williams plays Lydia who is, of course, the character at the heart of the story, but for a while we don't realise that. In fact, we don't even realise that she's the lead because initially Lydia plays second fiddle to Abbie and Williams plays second fiddle to actor/musician Florence Pugh, who does a great job with the character.
Abbie is Lydia's best friend, a blonde beauty who doesn't behave with the dignity the school expects. She wears her skirt too short, she misbehaves with boys in cars and, we soon discover, she turns up pregnant. Lydia merely, and quite obviously, has the hots for her friend and walks forever in her shadow. Sadly, she can't do that for too long, because Abbie has a seizure which leaves her dead in a hallway.
From here, things get really interesting. While Abbie is clearly into boys, Lydia is clearly into Abbie and we wonder early on if that's a sexual thing or just a deep friendship, with the likelihood being the former. There's a great deal of character building early on as Lydia, who proclaims herself not interested in sex, explores her sexuality without her sexually active best friend to help.
So this is a coming of age picture rooted in confusion and double meaning. Surely the falling of the title doesn't only refer to the fainting fits that begin to occur more and more often with a variety of girls and even one of the teachers, some clearly aimed at attention seeking but others not. Surely it also has a religious connotation, equating sex with sin, as Lydia falls for Abbie and then into a sort of psychological adolescent hell. It may even refer to Abbie's fall from Lydia's life, the pivotal moment in the film. Certainly there's an overt double meaning in the description of the orgasm as the little death.
I liked this a lot, but found it difficult to quantify why. I liked how it refused to explain things but felt it should still have explained more. I appreciated the final scenes that solidify some background but felt that they shouldn't have dominated the explanations. I liked how the teachers were gradually brought into the story rather than keeping it all purely among the students, but wanted more reasoning as to why.
I'm happier to talk up the acting, as Williams, Pugh and others are very good indeed. Best of all though is Greta Scaachi, who is absolutely superb. She appears initially to be a throwaway character, Miss Mantel, just a tough as nails teacher (Lydia calls her a 'malicious prude'), but she grows subtly throughout the film, gradually exposing a little of her background to colleagues and to us in a number of scenes. The one with Miss Charron, the art teacher, is amazing cinema.
If the rest of the film had been that good, this would be a must. Instead, it's merely an enjoyable and engaging curiosity. ~~ Hal C F Astell