A Field in England – Ben Wheatley’s groundbreaking film that will leave your head spinning

Ben Wheatley has always been a truly innovative and interesting filmmaker. Creator of Down Terrace (2009) and Kill List (2011) his films are always strange and eerie, as well as featuring morally dubious characters and ambiguous narratives. Wheatley’s last film, Sightseers (2012), was no different, with hateful yet likeable characters but with a slightly more straightforward narrative. But now with his latest release, A Field in England (2013), Wheatley has made something truly mystifying and bizarre yet marvellously compelling at the same time. A Field in England is indeed groundbreaking, in more ways than one. First of all in terms of content (more on that later), but also in terms of how it has been released. On Friday the 5th of July 2013 A Field in England was released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-ray, video on demand and TV (on the Film4 channel) at the same time, a truly remarkable idea that meant people more used to watching films in the comfort of their own home could see it at the same time as others who enjoy seeing films in the cinema with a large audience. Although whatever format this is viewed in you can immediately see this is a unique film experience like few seen before.

What follows throughout is an entirely beautiful, wonderful trip into the unknown. Emphasis on trip. To try and describe A Field in England plot wise is difficult, and would mean that you somewhat lose the point of the film. But the brief synopsis is that in the midst of the Civil War an alchemist called Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is trying to flee his master (Julian Barratt) when he escapes through a hedge and ends up in a field on the outskirts of the battle. There he meets a man named Cutler (Ryan Pope) and two other travellers (Peter Ferdinando and Richard Glover). Deciding that conflict is better left behind them all four men walk through a field on a much-needed journey to the local alehouse. As they travel and the banter (and insults) start to fly between them unanswerable questions about life and meaning are brought up. And soon they all start to suspect that something much bigger and mysterious is at work in the field…

Although this is briefly what A Field in England is about, the storyline isn’t really of any severe importance – and that is the beauty of the whole film. Rather than create a story that revolves around the usual solid plot, writer Amy Jump has managed to create a fascinating piece about the human psyche that features themes of magic, witchcraft and death. It is a snapshot of these characters, their journey, their doubts and fears and their ability to overcome them. For this reason as well although set in the time of the Civil War, it isn’t really about that at all. The battles are never seen by the viewer, a decision which allows the film to instead focus on the journey of these men.

And it is this superb script, coupled with Ben Wheatley’s usual confident direction, that makes for a sublimely surreal film that you can almost feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into. It is close to experimental through its use of shots and editing. Wheatley’s use of imagery via cinematographer Laurie Rose’s beautiful black and white shots is like watching a glorious painting come to life. This is particularly felt when they create some tableau-like, slow-moving images featuring the characters in various poses before something of importance is about to happen. Wheatley’s unique sense of editing has also featured heavily in his other work – all use piercing music and sometimes alternate between slow motion or fast cutting to create a sense of confusion for the viewer. And here in A Field in England, Wheatley has used it to perfection by using stroboscopic images and superfast cuts that are almost subliminal at times, creating images to confuse the mind and give a general sense of unease. Wheatley has stated that the methods he used are in fact meant to create a state for the viewer close to the experience of taking mushrooms, and it is a method that works brilliantly here (and which cleverly mirrors the trippy storyline).

This lack of complex narrative also means that this is very much a character piece. In turn this makes for a film filled with amazing performances from all involved. The actors are allowed room to breathe in the minimalist script so they can embody the characters and portray them as men who each have their own identifiable characteristics (the coward, the fool, the leader and so on). They also handle the dark humour of Wheatley’s world and Jump’s script expertly. Reece Shearsmith in particular is perfect for the role of Whitehead, the alchemist who tries to abide by religion but who constantly feels bombarded with temptation. His transformation from nervous, hand-wringing gent to confident man at the end of his tether is brilliant, especially for a disturbing scene in which we see him go through said transformation. Michael Smiley is also great and domineering as O’Neil the mysterious Irishman who Cutler works for and who all of the men instantly fear. And Richard Glover known simply in the story as a man called ‘Friend’ is another main standout as the naïve and gentle soul who seems to stumble foolishly through his life and who consequently has some of the funniest lines, which Glover delivers in a perfect high-pitched, almost childish tone. Indeed this band of (un)merry men are certainly some of the strangest, yet funniest, you will ever have seen.

A Field in England is one of those films that you can’t pin down and categorise. It is a film less about a story, more about a moment in suspended time which uses various metaphors to explore themes such as witchcraft, mythology and death, but that never takes us by the hand to lead us to a solid answer. Not everyone is going to like a film that doesn’t have all the answers and that is essentially plotless, but that is the beauty of this obscure and beautiful film from writer Amy Jump and director Ben Wheatley. A head trip of a narrative that revels in the unexplained and the unknown – a pure dream state film that deserves your undivided attention.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on July 23, 2013.

2 Responses to “A Field in England – Ben Wheatley’s groundbreaking film that will leave your head spinning”

  1. WOW!! makes me want to see it. Sounds like a brilliant film and brilliantly explained (if that is possible)…and thanks for following me, sir.

    • Yes, definitely check it out! It was one of the hardest reviews I’ve written ’cause it is ridiculously difficult to try and explain the plot after you’ve seen it! And no problem 🙂

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