A Field in England is a film that, I had a feeling would be an odd little movie and, on that score, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Set in 1648, during the English Civil War, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) and his band of men are doing their best to flee the ensuing melee, just as their Commander-in-chief is killed in battle, pointing in the direction they should head, as he draws his final breath.
With promise of an ale house at the end of the line, the men head forth, albeit bumping into a be-hatted and arrogant man going by the name of O’Neill (Michael Smiley, one of Britain’s most under-rated actors, who you’ll have seen in many things, including BBC1’s Luther, but you won’t necessarily know his name). The best moments come between Smiley and Shearsmith, the latter of whom always excels in the darker role, such as League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, but this is definitely his best performance to date. He’s also been doing the rounds to promote this on Breakfast and Sunday Brunch, even though Tim and Simon hadn’t actually got round to watching the film before he turned up(!)
Once they find O’Neill, Whitehead arrests him at the behest of their late leader. However, the captive believes there’s treasure in the field and enlists Whitehead to find it as his “divining rod”, concluding, “Whitehead – it is *I* who have captured *you*”
There’s also some intriguing dialogue which expands on the kind of regular sentences you’d hear in most modern films – and usually spoken by Shearsmith – such as the summing up of their situation with “I’m aware the odds are against us living a full span”, but there’s great additional lines which sounds like they’re all working in the same office, when one of them shouts “Let’s stop acting like a bunch of cunts”, while at another point, Shearsmith concludes: “Formed merely by the alchemy of circumstance. We would not otherwise associate.”
I liked the occasional scenes where music plays as everyone stands still in a pose that could’ve been done as a simple still, but is more intriguing when played out in real time. That sounds difficult to describe, but is fascinating to witness; and there’s a seriously chilling moment which I can only say is depicted by a man walking out of a tent with a rope tied around him, all in slow motion.
Other notable talents in the small cast include Richard Glover, simply known as ‘Friend’, who also appeared as Martin in Wheatley’s Sightseers, Peter Ferdinando as Jacob – with an unfortunable ailment; and, in the role of O’Neill’s second-in-command Cutler, Ryan Pope who took the Ideal role of Psycho Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaul!
Throw in some consuming of magic mushrooms late in the film, followed by a bizarre hallucigenic experience, and you have a film that feels less than the sum of its parts, but a must-see all the same.
When I read the review by Peter Bradshaw and heard Mark Kermode give his take on the film, both took time to list films by which Ben Wheatley has clearly been influenced, but I have to say that I haven’t seen any of those, so I’m judging this film on its own merits.
Overall, A Field In England is an engaging piece of work on its own merit, but is made all the more enticing to watch by the fact that it premiered on many different formats all at once – cinema, Blu-ray, DVD, on-demand and Film 4. I watched it on the latter, but would’ve loved to have seen it on the big screen. That said, not a single Odeon cinema was showing it at all, while they also showed similar disdain to Wheatley’s previous work, the must-see, albeit dragging in handful of places, Sightseers.
So, why did Ben Wheatley choose to allow a Film 4 broadcast at the same time as the cinema release, thus losing potential revenue? Well, obviously it’s not going to work on a big-budget film, but for a low-budget one like this, Wheatley took the plunge because it wasn’t until the Film 4 premiere of 2011’s superb Kill List, when he saw the reaction on Twitter and across social media, and realised this was the way forward. And I agree with him. As well as it being ‘event television’, just look at how much is made from the sales of boxsets of classic drama like 24, Doctor Who, Dexter and Breaking Bad – all of which, at some point, has come about from word-of-mouth. Roll on @mr_wheatley’s next movie!
Running time: 91 minutes
Released: July 5th 2013
Director: Ben Wheatley
Producers: Claire Jones and Andrew Starke
Screenplay: Amy Jump
Music: James Williams
Whitehead: Reece Shearsmith
O’Neill: Michael Smiley
Jacob: Peter Ferdinando
Friend: Richard Glover
Cutler: Ryan Pope
Trower: Julian Barratt
Voice Of The Field: Sara Dee
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.