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British Film Review: A Field In England
Film Review By Stuart Wright
‘A Field In England’ is a black and white, English Civil War British drama with a triple twist of psychedelia. It's directed by the prolific British film director Ben Wheatley (‘Down Terrace’ 2009, ‘Kill List’ 2011 and’ Sightseers’ 2012) and written by Amy Jump (Kill List).
League of Gentlemen's Reece Shearsmith is the star of the film. He plays an unlikely hero called Whitehead; a god-fearing coward of a man who winds up alone, in the aftermath of a great battle. He teams up with three starving deserters: Jacob (Peter Fernando), Friend (Richard Glover) and Cutler (Ryan Pope) who are equally lost once the cannons stop firing.
Cutler takes charge and leads them on a promise of real ale. As they cut across England's green and pleasant land they meld in a light-hearted, cartoonish way. Whitehead patronises them with almost everything he says, but it largely flies over their heads as healthy banter gives way to a glut of funny punch lines before they reach their first rest stop - a mushroom circle.
It is here that Cutler's true intentions are revealed as he makes a potent stew with the ingredients he has to hand. While Jacob and Friend eagerly fill their empty bellies, Whitehead proves himself to be made of sterner stuff and foregoes dinner.
Weakened by the strange brew Jacob and Friend now dance to Cutler's drum - their tiny minds blown open by hallucinogens and, maybe, a little alchemy. But Whitehead is too strong. His religious constitution keeps him in the real world - for now.
Nevertheless Cutler still forces Whitehead to take part in a rope ritual with the other two that drags the imposing, angry figure of O'Neil (Michael Smiley) from another dimension.
"It's doesn't surprise me that the devil is an Irishmen," observes Friend in his brain fried state.
O'Neil wants Jacob and Friend to dig for hidden treasures buried under the field. But he is also compelled to break Whitehead, and bring him away from God.
"Open up and let the devil in," taunts O'Neil repeatedly.
Here begins a battle of wills that hurries a descent into the film's brilliant madness. The music loses its kind folky edge - cue Blanck Mass's Chernobyl - and the visuals begin their visceral attack. Eventually, desperate and humiliated, devout Christian (Whitehead) is pushed to devouring some mushrooms. Through the aid of hallucinogens he is able to find himself and unlock the courage to fight back.
The images may throw you off course at times, but the central story remains straight and true as Whitehead leaves behind the shell of a chief worrier and rises up an alchemic warrior. The craziness never feels self-indulgent. All the visual mania dovetails perfectly with the perceived madness in the minds of O'Neil's victims.
By the end of the film, deciphering where we've been and where we end is not simple. There's plenty of room for interpretation and your imagination. Like ‘Kill List’ Jump's ingenious script doesn't go big on exposition, but rest assured, for the world the film exists in, everything that happens makes sense.
It's a tiny cast and therefore each person deserves recognition. Shearsmith's subtly during the metamorphosis really takes you down with him. Smiley is majestic as the dark overlord manipulating the minds of weaker men than he. Pope, best known for his role 'Psycho' Paul Nevin (‘Ideal’ - two series directed by Wheatley) is understated when in charge and downtrodden once he's completed his earthly task for O'Neil. However, the interplay of Fernando and Glover takes you right into the 17th century. They make you believe you are there, stranded in an overgrown field with no hope, no future and no past - just the present to survive. Their characters are brilliantly drawn and the measured change over from comic heroes butting heads with one another to almost blood brothers makes the film convincing and plausible.
Finally, this film was shot in just 12 days for an estimated production budget of £300,000. British filmmakers should check out the details on Film 4's website and be inspired by what Wheatley and co. have achieved with ‘A Field In England’.
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