A Field In England

Director: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Michael Smiley, Julian Barrett, Reece Shearsmith, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover

Written by: Amy Jump

Running Time: 90 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 5th July 2013

A Field In England is a first. The first time a film has simultaneously been released in the cinema,  available online and on DVD as well as shown on television (premiered on Film 4, the company that released the film). It also happens to be an extraordinary piece of cinema from a director who is slowly proving himself to be a major talent in British cinema and when you consider that it cost a mere £300,000 to make, it’s even more extraordinary.

Whitehead is a deserter in the English Civil War who had been given the job of finding the alchemist O’Neil. Meeting up with two fellow deserters, they head across a field, heading to an inn for an ale or two. During they trip, they are kidnapped by O’Neil who makes them help him find “treasure” that is hidden somewhere in this vast expanse.

Ben Wheatley is a director who doesn’t want to give us the same old same old. His first film, Down Terrace, was a crime comedy; Kill List, the film that really got people’s attention, was a cross genre domestic drama/thriller/horror while last year saw the blackly comic Sightseers. This is a film that defines categorizing. Is it a historical drama? A black comedy? A hippie trip film? A horror? I have no idea. It’s also a film that is consistently fascinating and utterly frustrating in equal measures. 

Filmed in black and white and using a variety of tricks to push the narration along, from tableau to fast-speed cross cutting (particularly effective during the “magic mushroom” psychedelia sequence), Wheatley’s talky tale is thankfully short in its running time, for if it was to go on any longer you’d be pulling your hair out.

Like Wheatley’s previous film, the brilliantly disturbing Kill List, he doesn’t explain everything but allows his audience to make up their own mind. We are never sure what they men are doing and, for that matter, why we are watching them. Whatever their aims, you cannot help but be drawn into their bizarre and sometimes haunting world, even if it is just a field.

What could have been a straight forward Waiting For Godot style piece of absurd cinema, Wheatley throws in a curve-ball with a strangely queasy psychedelic scene in which the well-spoken and quiet Whitehead takes magic mushroom and heads down a massive trip. Wheatley’s mixing of quick cuts and double exposure sucks you into this world and it is a measure of his talents as a film maker that it is so mystifying, even in black and white.

The performances are uniformly terrific, especially from Michael Smiley as the mysterious O’Neil and Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead, who becomes almost the focal point of the picture. The former League Of Gentlemen player carries the film as the only character speaking in the language you’d expect for the period and yet in the short course of the story, changes the most.

This isn’t a film for everyone. With it’s art house qualities (some comparing its spareness with Bergman’s The Seventh Seal), it isn’t the kind of film that would attract a huge multiplex audience but it is challenging cinema, the kind that you have to meet half way. Don’t go in expecting everything to be laid out on a plate, you have to work just as hard as the makers to unscramble it’s complexities. Once you have, you will feel a sense of satisfaction and that you have experienced a film maker who isn’t afraid to make films that are not of the norm, that don’t follow a well-trodden pathway.

A Field In England just shows how exciting cinema can be and it should be constantly encouraged. We should also celebrate a director who, hopefully won’t sell out and will get better and better. On the strength of this gothically odd piece, and his past work, I don’t think he will and I look forward to what other tricks he has up his sleeve.

4/5

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