Set in England in the 17th century, a small group of deserters flee from a raging battle through an overgrown field. Two men capture them: O’Neil and Cutler. O’Neil, an alchemist, forces the group to aid him in his search to find a hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field. Crossing a vast mushroom circle, which provides their first meal and psychedelic and hallucinogenic properties, the group quickly descend into a chaos of arguments, fighting and paranoia, and, as it becomes clear that the treasure might be something other than gold, they slowly become victim to the terrifying energies trapped inside the field.
The film is described as a monochrome-psychedelic breakdown, taking place somewhere in the West Country during the civil war in England in the 17th century. The film A Field in England is driven in terms of narrative by clear discomfort. O’Neil is scary and commanding, while Whitehead is hilariously submissive, even after making out he is more knowledgeable than he actually is.
It’s an incredibly complex film at times, while also harshly direct and realistic in the ways Ben Wheatley’s movie always tend to be. He shoots in black and white, mixing his usual handheld realism with odd additions like stills and well-preformed and captivating hallucination sequences.
The film is philosophically evocative and the narrative is so complex it is captivating to see if you can work it out. It has driven blasts of psychological torment and graphic violence. That just also makes it a film that will appeal to an even smaller audience than his previous work; there is a use of strong British actors to help appeal to audiences in which they are familiar to, to counterbalance this complexity.
Smiley’s acting shows him as commanding and disturbing, proving a terrifyingly powerful figure who could believably command four men through pure mental and physical torment and intimidation. Shearsmith plays well to a twisted role, delivering possibly the movie’s most terrifying moment when he emerges from screaming torture in a tent in a creepy slow motion daze. This has an effect on the audience and puts them in a similar daze because of being positioned through the eyes of Shearsmith.
A Field Of England is certainly not a simple movie to interpret and all of your time will be spent thinking about what happened previously as the film continues. However, even if you are not sure to make of it all, it has an undeniable power from scene to scene that is practically impossible to pull your attention away from. Audiences will be emotionally evoked and intent on finding out more.
The performances are incredible, the ideas intriguing, the setting captivating and imaginative, the visuals artistic, and the emotional impact confusing but dramatic. That is all the makings of a good movie but it will not please an entire crowd because of its cheer complexity and subject matter.
The filmmaker’s boldest point in the film is to introduce a strong psychedelic element to the storytelling. Around the rim of the field are magic mushrooms, which the characters consume with predictably hallucinogenic results. This gives the film another edge to draw people in and evoke an emotional response based around interest and wanting to know more.
While profoundly compelling and intriguing in equal measure from beginning to end, ultimately it is exciting that we have a filmmaker on the rise that is so intent on trying new things. It will be interesting to see how divided audiences will be in reaction to what is Wheatley’s most obscure film yet. Because of people being unfamiliar with the director’s work the desired responses may not be attained by all who watch the film. I for one was confused and found the film rather difficult to keep up with, even having seen a few of his other films. My emotional response was one of disappointment more than anything, I wanted to see something that would entice me more than what I saw and that just did not happen, other people will share this view and while appreciating its art house effect and artistic qualities, they will not watch it again.
Scripted by Amy Jump, one of the film’s pleasures is its rich dialogue, a blend of Shakespearean language, swearing, and lowbrow toilet humour all collaborates and attempt to draw an array of spectators. This dialogue throws people off guard, as it is very complex yet humorous and uneducated all at the same time.
They act as opposites and this plays on the two dialogue forms against each other, with swearing and Shakespearean language intertwined, which plays and emphasises comedic elements. The cinematography also is vaguely hinting that these ill-matched protagonists may even be dead souls trapped in an infernal purgatory. This just adds even more to the element of drama and audiences are emotionally dazed and struck into a state of complete confusion.
A Field in England looks terrific; the stylistic monochrome sequences emphasized by extreme close-ups of plants, animals, insects and tormented human faces all add to the captivating of the spectators by evoking emotional responses that are usually focused around driven and forced shock by what you are shown on screen. It could also most likely be that of confusion as the narrative is very complex.