A trip unlike any other.
Cast: Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley.
Director: Ben Wheatley.
Runtime: 90 minutes.
Plot: (Taken from IMDb) Amid the Civil War in 17th – Century England, a group of deserters flee from battle through an overgrown field. Captured by an alchemist, the men are forced to help him search to find a hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field.
A Field in England is an art film. The entirety is filmed in black & white and we are often graced by images of the actors posed and still – this is a bizarre film that is well worth any discerning film fan’s time, it is harder to recommend to more casual viewers however.
Ben Wheatley’s latest is his strangest, with a whole section of around 10 minutes which is just artsy shots of mirrored images, kaleidoscopic images flashing through every second – indeed, a warning is given for those who suffer from epilepsy, a truer warning has never been given.
The amount of art-shots cannot be seen as a negative however, it is just different from perhaps anything you have ever seen. Indeed, the premise alone is bizarre enough – make a comedy about the Civil War (the English one for those outside these green and damp lands), and focus on a group of characters that normally would not be seen together, forced into looking for some treasure that Michael Smiley’s fantastic antagonist (O’Neil) is very keen to find.
It’s in how the plot plays out where the insanity takes hold quite literally from a large amount of mushrooms (presumably of the magic kind). From this point on, the film takes the form of a drug trip. With Friend (Richard Glover) at times dying, and then undying (see: not being dead). You never quite know if what you’re watching is actually happening, or if it’s just part of the trip.
What adds expertly to this feeling of the bizarre is in the humour. The humour is fairly muted, and it all lies in the performance. Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley all own it in their performances. Ben Wheatley certainly knows how to get great performances out of his cast, no matter how minor the part. Reece Shearsmith however, leads the pack as Whitehead (the protagonist of the piece), Shearsmith captivates as the insecure scientist and then as the insecure scientist, not so insecure anymore, off his tits on drugs and then forced (somehow) into being something like a truffle sniffing pig for O’Neil.
The performances really carry what is otherwise an odd and slightly dull film which appears to just focus on the art, not the story. However, the performances are great, so the film is not dull; it just has the tendency and the odd moment of dullness. I think this is part and parcel with the bizarre premise and slightly nebulous art film vibes A Field in England gives off.
As a film that is only 90 minutes long (good, isn’t it?), A Field in England does not pull any punches in its plot-pacing. And it all comes to a head in the final 15 minutes of the film, which is a glorious finale to an odd film. We are given violence, shouting and searching at the end and it works fantastically – The final act of the film makes the whole thing worth sitting through, that’s if you can sit through a slightly dull mid-section.
The film lags in the middle, where we just see a lot of the characters walking and talking. Sure this gives us a heap of character development, but I feel that just a few stories and odd artsy shots cannot carry a film for half an hour. If this half-hour was cut down just a little, A Field in England would be all the better for it.
Perhaps the strongest aspects of the film that is not the acting comes with the cinematography and music. Music flows in with shots expertly, becoming a part of a beautifully shot film. Never has a field in England looked as good on film, the black and white really makes the surroundings pop and come wonderfully into life.
Just as the black and white compliments the visuals, the practical effects complete the film. All violence is handled with good old-fashioned effects, with each shot of violence looking as realistic as it does ridiculous. Indeed, ridiculous is a good word to describe this film.
A Field in England is a bizarre trip of a film carried by fantastic performances, beautiful cinematography, great use of music and fantastic practical effects. Despite all the positives however, it is a difficult film to recommend to all but the film enthusiast. Its tendency for art over narrative truly makes A Field in England a memorable film, it’s just a shame it drags in the middle.
Bizarre, trippy and violent – A Field in England is worth a watch.