10 out of 10

Release Date: 7th July 2013

Director: Ben Wheatley (Freak Shift / Free Fire / High-Rise / Sightseers / Kill List / Down Terrace)

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover and Julian Barratt

Writer: Amy Jump

Trailer: A Field In England


Ben Wheatley‘s fourth feature film is heavy.  After the relatively light Sightseers, I’m pleased to report that this is both Wheatley’s best so far and the best British film of 2013 (so far).  Set during the English Civil War, three deserters; one a scholar, Whitesmith (REECE SHEARSMITH – LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN), the other two, soldiers Friend and Jacob (RICHARD GLOVER – SIGHTSEERS and PETER FERDINANDO – TURNOUT) are led to a field by a mysterious wanderer, Cutler (RYAN POPE – LOOKING FOR ERIC).  Bribed with visions of a nearby ale house and plied with wild (magic) mushroom soup they soon find themselves trapped within a fairy ring by a deadly alchemist, O’Neil (MICHAEL SMILEY – KILL LIST) who happens to be  searching for buried treasure.

That’s how much I think I know. This is because so much is offered but nothing is confirmed. Much like the dim soldiers we are taken in by the intially light jovial tone of the story.  Even a thwarted rescue attempt (to free someone from the fairy ring with a rope) is played for disorientating laughs.  It’s only around the halfway mark when the tone turns black and the comedy upsetting you find that there’s no way out.  A disturbing (off-screen) torture scene results in one of the most haunting visual depictions of posession (or is it?) that I’ve ever seen.  For the first time since Down Terrace, Wheatley has chosen to use music to bolster the scenes emotions.  At times reminiscent of Michael Nyman‘s score for The Draughtsman’s Contract, there are also sections of powerful ambience (one of which enhances said possession) and a folk ditty of the time which recurs at distant intervals.

The scenes are often punctuated with unusual tableaux and frequent ‘fade to blacks’.  The use of black and white also serves to unease. It takes perhaps an instant longer to decipher the frame in chrome. The acting is excellent all round. Reece Shearsmith takes the honours for most accomplished lead by a comic actor in a long, long time.  He’s amply backed up by the rest of the cast, namely Richard Glover‘s tragic Friend, who easily could have have come across as cheap comic relief. SPOILER: His death speech is one of the finest since Rutger Hauer’s at the end of Bladerunner. Seriously. But what of the plot? Well, an understanding of the negrado stage (despair) of the four stages of alchemy would be a good place to start although it does mix mythology with completely unheard of / original elements.  An ill planet maybe about to collide with the earth, a man pukes up a collection of gold runes, a poltis for an angry man’s ballbag gives him sense and grace, all these occur and serve to baffle and confuse. The overall effect is one of awe though. You’ll never see another film like it and besides some superficial comparisons to Winstanley, The Wicker Man and Jabberwocky, you’ll never have seen anything quite like it before, either.

10 out of 10 – A truly original whirl of invention and horror that will stay on your mind for days and haunt your dreams.  You can probably tell from the length of this review that it defies written description, and isn’t that proof enough, that if it can shut an amateur film critic like me up, it’s got to be fucking awesome. (Awesome in the true sense, not California Man sense).

Brilliant and learned review from Joe Pesci II aka Matt Mushroom



One thought on “A FIELD IN ENGLAND

  1. Review by Mysterious Matt Usher

    Here’s another head-scratching, eyeball-aching, shock-inducing exercise in low-key megalomania from the Wheatley-Jump stable of misanthropic cinema (which isn’t as negative as it sounds). Having previously specialised in low-life housing estate misfits and murderers, they now turn their attentions to the low-life misfits and murderers of the English Civil War – a conflict we (by and large) tend to prefer to ignore, probably because it’s really important. So Reece Shearsmith plays some sort of churchman who is looking for a mad Irishman who may or may not be some sort of sorcerer or charlatan (Michael Smiley). Meanwhile there are some other blokes standing around. And they’re all in a field (in England). And they eat some mushrooms whilst looking for a fictional alehouse. Death arrives but proves (or seems) to be a temporary state of affairs. It all gets quite weird at times. Then there’s a bit where the film editor tries to pull your brain out by burning through your eyes.

    Some reviewers have suggested that this film is some sort of new departure for Britain’s weirdest / most visionary film-maker (mainly because it’s in black and white and set in ye olden dayes). It is nothing of the sort. Like its predecessors it is wilfully obscure / impenetrable, surprising, deeply disturbing, treats the human body as something that should be brutalised at every opportunity, has a macabre sense of humour (that’s a bit of an understatement) and a powerfully claustrophobic sense of characters trapped in a world they can’t control; and it’s a very bleak examination of elements of England and Englishness. Unlike its predecessors it does remind me of Dad’s Army though. And it is also in a way a kind of spiritual love-child of Ingmar Bergman and Blackadder. It’s also the most beautiful grisly film I’ve seen.

    The film is incredibly accomplished (and it might teach a thing or two to the likes of Messrs Tanter and Phillips about how to spend money and make a film look good). The music is like good Greenaway-era Nyman, but utterly distinctive and serves the film well in its relation to old English musical forms. And the film-makers got their moneys’-worth from their editing suite. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of taste, unless it unleashes any latent epilepsy in you, in which case it’s a pretty bad thing. The actors all look suitably gnarled and beaten, with Michael Smiley as a kind of lugubriously vulpine opportunist. Reece Shearsmith is (deliberately) out of his depth playing cinema’s worst-ever manhunter. And there is a very fine death-speech, which should be widely quoted (if only more than about twenty-three people had seen the film). Every now and again the actors freeze (almost) into friezes or tableaux – I’m not sure why (there’s a lot I’m not sure about), but it adds to the mystification / obfuscation.

    But what does it all amount to? A lot of ink has already been spilt on this matter. And I have little doubt that the film-makers expect to see this film as the basis of numerous PhDs and Doctorates and who knows what else. So my thesis is that it’s a film designed to produce lots of PhDs and Doctorates. It’s also an attack on the British class system, organised religion, and a cautionary tale about (a) talking to strangers and (b) eating strange food. Perhaps they should show this in schools. And then there’s the film’s big secret. It’s a remake. But of what? A mismatched bunch of oddbods and mystics wander round a field looking for treasure and eat some local produce. They go a bit barmy and trouble follows. It’s a remake of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING with venereal disease. Of course, it’s possible that I’ve misread the situation somewhat, and that it’s really a polemic on man’s infinite ability to fall for any old copswallop if it’s presented to them by authority figures (whether that authority be financial, religious, military or political). Or maybe it’s a warning against the evils of Nigel Farage.

    But did I like it?

    I don’t know. There’s a lot to like. It’s quite unlike any other film I’ve seen. And it certainly worms its way into the mind. And there’s some astonishing imagery (and non-imagery – what went on in the tent?). In this respect it is reminiscent of directors like Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway during their heydays. Wheatley (in this film at least) tries to make every frame a work of art (albeit occasionally repulsive art involving unhealthy genitalia). It’s the most visually arresting film I’ve seen since I got roped into this Britpic lark (second anniversary imminent!), and also the most baffling (except for MALICE IN WONDERLAND). And it feels like it actually is the film they were trying to make. And I suspect it’s the sort of film which will throw up all sorts of different ideas each time you watch it. But would I want to watch it again? Yes, but only when armed with the director’s commentary, a bunch of PhD theses, and lots of learned reviews. I suppose the problem is that, for all its originality and integrity, it feels like an unsolved crossword puzzle (itself a crime against nature), one which I’m too stupid to know the answers to. As such I can’t just sit back and be dazzled, I NEED ANSWERS! Maybe I should just eat some odd mushrooms and have another go (mushrooms seem to be very important) but I need more that mushrooms Mr Wheatley!

    Although impressive, dazzling, bleak, clever and funny, A FIELD IN ENGLAND leaves its audience behind (well, me at least). Although you may argue that this is a sign of its impeccable integrity, it also means that we are left wondering why we’ve bothered watching it, and why the film-makers bothered making it in the first place. I’m glad they did, but there should surely be more to a film (even a mini-micro-budget film) than atmosphere, mystery and dubious fungi.

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