Review: A Field in England / Cert: 15 / Director: Ben Wheatley / Screenplay: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley / Starring: Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover / Released: Out now
If you’re a monochromat who has spent an English Civil War re-enactment weekend under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, then you don’t need to read this review. Run along now; nothing new here for you. The rest of you better stay. Have they gone? Good. Do you think they live life a bit excessively or are we just getting boring? Anyway; the review.
A Field in England opens with some soldiers and a scholar running away from a battle in search of a pub, only to encounter the diabolical O’Neil (the always-good-value Michael Smiley) with, shall we say, confusing results. Now you might have read other reviews of this movie that tend to fall into the categories of eye-rolling derision or the sort of fawning hyperbole that smacks of a fear that Alex Cox will be telling us why it was brilliant on Moviedrome in twenty years time. We’re going to go for something in between but very much towards to the latter (because we don’t want Alex making us look stupid either).
This is unashamedly art house material and shot entirely in black and white so that, director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers) has confirmed, it looks a bit like the BBC’s 1964 docudrama Culloden (which really is good, by the way). It also features a series of utterly inexplicable interludes of the cast posing in tableaux vivants (thank you, Wikipedia) that are also funnier than was perhaps intended. Sounding pretentious enough yet? If you don’t care about all that and are just interested in a good yarn then you might have a problem there too. It’s a bit trippy and Wheatley actually seems to take great delight in making his story as difficult to follow as he possibly can. He wants you to work hard for his movie and the odd thing is that, while this is part of the film’s problem, it’s also one of its greatest strengths. Watch it and then talk about it with someone else. If necessary, go and have a look on the web to see what other people are making of the story. Gradually, between us all, we’ll work out was going on. In fact, you might start thinking about watching it again. It’s not the first movie with this effect but it’s no less satisfactory for that.
Combine this with some genuinely striking imagery and you have a film that, while more than a bit baffling, we won’t hesitate to recommend. It’ll stick with you and, in all likelihood, you’ll be thinking of it in a more positive light the day after than you did when it’d just finished. We need challenging films we can argue about from time to time; isn’t that what art’s all about? A folk-horror version of Performance (1970) with Mick Jagger replaced by Roundheads. Who’d not want to see that?
Extras: Audio commentary / Interview with the director / Ten featurettes / Trailer