Hello, AsimovLives here.
This is my review of a most unusual and cool film. It is called…
A Field In England.
Follow me below.
In Which The Artists and the Personae Dramaticae Are Presented And Listed:
Director: Ben Whetley
Writer: Amy Jumpey
Cast: Julian Barratt as Trower, Peter Ferdinando as Jacob, Richard Glover as Friend, Ryan Pope as Cutler, Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead and Michael Smiley as O’Neill.
In Which The Plot And Story Is Described In Summation:
The English Civil War, somewhere in the mid-17th century: Whitehead, a scholar, astrologer, alchemist assistant and self-confessed coward, deserts from a battle raging on and hides in a row of shrubberies, but he’s quickly found by two men, Cutler the deserter and Trower, his brutish commanding officer. About to be shot by Trower, Cutler intervenes and shoots the later. Cutler ingratiates himself with Whitehead, who decide to escape the battle (but not before Cutler ransacks Trower’s body) and they are soon joined by two other deserters, the dimwitted but friendly Friend (yes, that’s his name) and the moody Jacob.
With the battle raging on their backs, they decide to cross an open field, where Cutler promises there’s an alehouse waiting on the other side. Stopping for food, where Cutler finds and shares some wild mushrooms and where Jacob has a bad case of the shits, Whitehead finally opens up to his recent companions that he is on a mission from his master to find an individual called O’Neill, a thief who betrayed and stole important property. Under the influence of the mushrooms, they find a rope tied to a short pole where they mystically assert that O’Neil is on the other end and pull, but the rope pulls them instead and they find themselves next to O’Neill. It’s quickly established that Cutler is working for O’Neill, and soon the later established his authority over the group through intimidation and force, turning Whitehead from captor to captive.
O’Neill informs Whitehead that the theft was motivated to find a hidden treasure buried in the field. Reaching an abandoned campaign tent, O’Neill forces Whitehead to locate the treasure by mystical means. Jacob and Friend are forced to dig up while Cutler supervises and Whitehead recuperates from the brutal treatment from O’Neill. And O’Neill takes a nap in the tent.
Jacob fears he’s turning into a newt but Whitehead using his medical skills just informs him he has several venereal diseases and hemorrhoids, but no sign of magical transformation. Frustrated by the constant humiliations Jacob picks a fight with Friend, prompting Cutler into a rash action and shoots Friend dead. O’Neill, upset with the loss of a pair of able arms, punished Cutler by forcing him to dig as well, while Whitehead and Jacob take the confusion of the moment to make themselves scarce and hide in the tall grasses, out of O’Neill’s sight.
Cutler finally digs to the treasure, but it reveals to be something quite different from expected. O’Neill loses his mind and goes on a violent rampage, and Whitehead finally reaches the end of his tether and decides to do some affirmative action with the help of a massive ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Friend turns out to still alive, and things become even weirder.
In Which The Author Of The Article Exposes His Thoughts and Feelings About The Filmic Work In Question:
It tells something about this film when it opens with a warning on the strobe effect on the viewer.
I confess I have never seen any of Ben Wheatley’s movies before, so I came to this movie completely unprepared. It turns out, this is Wheatley’s most experimental film. Reminds me how I started on Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography with Valhalla Rising. It’s not the first time I started on a filmmaker’s career with their most strange and surreal movie –Apocalypse Now, my first Francis Ford Coppola film, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, my first Kubrick film, also come to mind. Talk about no half measures!
The first thing to come to attention about the film is the black and white cinematography. It’s beautiful and it works very well for the psychedelic nature of the film. Right away we understand we are into a strange world where the grim reality of the brutal English Civil War co-exists with magic and madness.
The events of this movie are hard to describe. If the description above makes it sound crazy, it barely prepares the viewer to the experience of watching it proper. The movie starts off-beat and only gets progressively weirder and surrealistic.
But I take that to be one of the movie’s qualities. There is a defiance quality to A Field in England that doesn’t provide easy answers to the events and the characters. The viewer finds himself thrown in head on to the story, and the slow reveals arrive nuanced and subtle.
Despite the craziness, there is a lot of black humour to be enjoyed in the film. Most comes from the character of Friend, a simpleton who might possess some hidden wisdom of his own and whose good nature always makes him try to make the best of the situations. His comments on the action always strike a nerve to the more street-smart or intellectual of his companions. His comment that “it’s natural that the Devil would be an Irish” might strike as terribly insensitive and insulting to modern ears, but it would be a natural thought for an Englishman of the time.
But eventually the story belongs to Whitehead and to his character arc. Reece Shearsmith in the role is a revelation. I already knew he was quite an excellent comedian thanks to the comedy/horror TV show League of Gentlemen, but in this film he reveals a great capacity to portray an immediately sympathetic character who is literate to a fault and carries the film’s most complicated lines with an ease that convinces the viewer he truly is the man of letters he claims to be. His journey from easily intimidated coward into the much more assertive character by the end is propitiated effortlessly and convincing.
Shearsmith’s qualities as a comedian come to the fore when the major hallucinating scene arrives and he sells it like others before him never did on cinema.
The acting in this film is generally superior. All actors look the part of Englishmen (and one Irish) living in the 17th century. And all have extraordinary faces that make them striking to look at, even if none of them is a pretty boy. In fact, that works to the film’s favour.
The film score is minimalist, made of a tracks playing on traditional English instruments but in the service of a psychedelic composition, like traditional English music turned on its head, which is fitting both the historical setting and the surrealistic nature of the film. For something more normal, one song is featured a few times in the film, a ballad called “Baloo My Boy”. In the middle of all the surreal events depicted in the film, the normalcy of this song almost comes as a shock.
Here’s the song, for your pleasure:
There’s also something to be said that the film was made with only a £300,000 budget, small even by the British film industry standards. This film was made by a true desire from the filmmakers to make it, a work of love by all involved. And this is one of those films where the limited budget works for the film. Films shouldn’t be admired or dismissed merely by their budgets, a film shouldn’t be praised for being low budget or damned for being big budget and vice-versa. But there is something to be said that this is a film where people loved doing it and the love shows through. I find this type of love and film-making honesty extremely enticing and it always wins me over. That and the fact the movie is pretty good. And crazy!
So, if you are for a bit of counter-programming from the average entertainment film variety, if you are willing to take a chance on something different, this would be something to try out on the side. It’s strange, it’s weird, it’s fascinating to behold, you might even find it quite funny.
Oh, and don’t forget the strobe warning above. When you watch the movie you will know why.
In Which The Author Posts His Final Thoughts And Bids Fare Thee Well:
In conclusion, this is a must watch, for all you who feel adventurous in tasting more than just the studio films and have fun in seeing what strange magic can be conjured on film just by the mere will to make a movie from a labour of love, budget be damned.
Hope you enjoyed it.
As always thank you for reading.
This is AsimovLives, signing off. Be well.