If you’re a regular visitor to these pages you’ll already be aware that A Field In England, Ben Wheatley’s follow up to Sightseers is released on 5th July in a first-of-its-kind multi-channel launch. The film’s Onion pedigree is unquestionable, with the film sharing a bevvy of production crew with Sightseers and TVO-heavy cast.
Velveteer Mog was lucky enough to attend a preview screening this week, and here’s what she thought about the film (without giving too much away):
The English Civil War. As directed by Ben Wheatley. On mushrooms. It sounds like one of the random mash-ups shouted out by enthusiastic audience members at an improv gig; but in the case of A Field In England it’s an accurate description of what the film is. The end result is as unique, genre-defying and mind-boggling as the combination suggests.
Set in the Civil War and shot entirely in black & white, it hurls you headlong into an unfamilar world right from the off. The film opens with Julian Barratt on horseback; muddy explosions are amplified to teeth-rattling levels and billowing clouds of gunpowder hang in the air. Sound and picture combine to place us there, in the thick of the fear of battle. The effect is startling and claustrophobic, and the sense of unease is maintained throughout the film.
The storyline is deceptively simple: a small band of deserters decide to walk to a local alehouse. Along the way they encounter a field of magic mushrooms, witchcraft, an ill-fated hunt for treasure and one shudderingly evil character. It is these factors that cause the narrative to fracture into disorientating shards – just as you think that you know what’s happening, a line of dialogue or a visual flourish spins you off course again, and you’re left wondering what’s really going on. I have my own (slightly hazy) theory about what happened in that field, but the reality remains tantalisingly out of reach.
The sense of strangeness and confusion is maintained by the visual techniques at play throughout the film: kaleidoscopic montages, darkly comic tableaux and raging black suns that fill the sky. A Field In England is Wheatley’s most art house celluloid moment, perhaps intrusively so at times. It does however make it easy to relate to some of the more mushroom-addled characters! For the most part though, the visual world in which we linger is the jaw dropping majesty of the British countryside, paradoxically made all the more vivid by its monotone treatment.
Special mention must go to Amy Jump for her authentic, poetic and deliciously hilarious script; to Richard Glover for proving himself to be one of the funniest men on screen (once again); to Reece Shearsmith for inhabiting the character of Whitehead so utterly, one couldn’t see where the the actor stopped and the character began, and to Michael Smiley for his turn as the viscerally evil O’Neil. Never was an actor more inappropriately named!
In fact, all the performances are exceptional, and in a cast of only 6 people, every one counts.
A Field In England: Dark, beautiful, original and more than just a little bit mind-boggling. Catch it in cinemas,on DVD/Blu-ray, on VoD services or on television (Film4) on 5th July.