SF IndieFest 2014
By Dirk Sonniksen | January 31, 2014
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer(s): Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Richard Glover, Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando
It’s 17th-century England, the time of Cromwell, and of civil war. Things are bad, there is much carnage, a bit too much in fact for a number of fellows who have decided they’ve had enough of war. The first to head for the field is Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), the pious one of the bunch. He is on a quest which is temporarily interrupted when our other deserters come together as a merry band fleeing the horrors of bloody conflict. These misfits eventually find themselves in the middle of a field where they come upon O’Neil (Michael Smiley), a sorcerer, alchemist, weirdo-type that soon has our other fellows digging for treasure. While they do not immediately find treasure, our men do happen upon an abundance of Psilocybin mushrooms, which makes for a much more interesting experience when searching for treasure. Though our cast of deserters have their moments of bonding, it all goes to hell eventually, with O’Neil creating working conditions that cause a mutiny of sorts.
A Field In England is a glorious film that is fantastically dramatic, very funny, and quite strange. There were times when I experienced beautiful moments of clarity watching this film, only to be thrust into scenes that left me scratching my head. I pondered each character, but had difficulty finding any motivation, with the possible exception of Whitehead and O’Neil—but honestly I have my doubts about them as well. This might be labeled lack of characterization, but they are lower class deserters in 17th-century England—how multidimensional can these guys get? They are in the middle of a field, tripping on mushrooms, digging a hole. For me, the best way around any minor faults or confusion in the film was to enjoy the hilarious banter between our characters. The humor helps to soften the psychedelic, miserable journey these men are forced to undertake.
A Field In England was shot in black & white with quasi-archaic camera equipment, but sometimes the old stuff produces the best look. We end up with a film that is stark and bleak in a sense, but also beautiful when the camera crosses over the blowing grasses of the field or captures sunlight at that perfect angle. Seeing these men in black & white adds a quaint misery and desperation to their personalities that one simply could not accomplish shooting in color.
A Field in England is not going to appeal to the weekend cinema crowd. That’s not to, in any way, discredit said crowd, but it’s probably a bit trippy for a lot of folks. If you’re in the latter category, but a bit on the experimental side, then you might find yourself with a new favorite cult classic. It’s my opinion that A Field In England could indeed end up a cult classic simply because Hollywood lacks a great 17th-century drama/comedy, shot in black and white, featuring characters tripping on mushrooms in a field—while digging a hole for treasure. Ben Wheatley cornered the market on this genre—and he did a damn fine job.