Following on from the somewhat more accessible Sightseers last Autumn, there was a concern that bold and innovative director Ben Wheatley was veering towards a more mainstream approach. However any such trepidation has been quickly dissolved, as he returns alongside writer and regular collaborator Amy Jump to bring us A Field in England – a bleak yet illuminating picture that manages to combine the darkness of The League of Gentlemen, with the utter absurdity of The Mighty Boosh to create one of the most memorable films you will see this year.
Disregarding any palpable narrative, Wheatley presents a surreal drama set during the 17th century English Civil War, as we follow a small collection of eccentric delinquents including Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), who have fled the battlefield to venture across a vast field that is harvesting magic mushrooms, as the group embark on a psychedelic hunt for buried treasure, following malevolent alchemist O’Neil’s (Michael Smiley) lead.
A Field in England is a strange piece of filmmaking to say the least, as Wheatley finds himself back in Kill List territory, as a picture that will compel and confuse the viewer in equal measure, bearing a disquieting and intense atmosphere, richly enhanced with a dry wit we so often see implemented in his movies. It’s just so bizarre, and Wheatley uses a host of camera tricks, playing with the notion of conventional cinema, opting for distinct creativity in the meantime. Not all of it works, but he must commended for daring to try.
Although unexplainable at the best of times, A Field in England remains a captivating drama, as a film that has you completely transfixed from start to finish. There is just something about the atmosphere and the world Wheatley has created that that draws you in, and although difficult to put into words, it’s completely absorbing. A whole range of emotions are triggered, as the viewer feels uncomfortable at times, while being inspired and heartened at others. At the core of this story we have a supposed simpleton rising up to something of a hero, and in a film that centres around friendship and the relationships built amongst strangers, it’s incredibly emotional in parts.
Such poignancy is enhanced with the portentous black and white aesthetic, with the English countryside working perfectly at the film’s backdrop, never failing to surprise the viewer despite the setting remaining the same throughout. The sentimental aspects to this picture are mostly evident in the memorable scene when a fellow deserter played by Richard Glover sings the emotionally charged folk song Baloo My Boy – a strange yet touching moment, which ultimately sums up this production. Glover turns in one of many impressive performances, though it is our lead Shearsmith who stands out. Smiley, once again, also shines, as his ability to be both harrowingly threatening and yet tragic and vulnerable in equal measure is on show, as he embodies everything that Wheatley strives to achieve on screen.
A Field in England is also attracting interest as the first British film to receive its TV premiere on the very same day as its theatrical release, which, in this instance may be of benefit. Though a brilliant piece of filmmaking, this picture will alienate many, and perhaps watching it at home avoids taking the gamble, as if this doesn’t tickle your fancy you have the option of switching channels. However by whatever means you decide to watch this film, in the cinema or in the comfort of your living room, just be sure you pay this field a visit.