‘A Field in England’ is a wonderfully bizarre and darkly funny journey into the past

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Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Amy Jump
UK, 2013

Since his impressive debut Down Terrace (2009), Ben Wheatley has managed to establish himself as one of the most promising young directors in the UK today. The black and white (English) civil war-era A Field in England is both delightfully eccentric and mesmerising, and remains proof that the hype surrounding the prolific yet remarkably consistent director is by no means premature.

Similarly to the rest of his films, the less known about the plot before going to see it the better, but very generally, A Field in England follows a band of hungry and frightened deserters who leave the battlefield in search of food (and ale). Through strange circumstances they run in to the Irish alchemist O’Neil (Michael Smiley), who believes Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) can help him find some treasure buried within a mystical field. Although the film is entirely set within this field, with a budget of just £300k, Wheatley’s previous directorial experience with extremely limited resources appears to have prepared him well for this challenge. He is undoubtedly aided by a set of solid performances from the cast too however, all helping to ensure that the end result never appears cheap or nasty.

The film is at its strongest when it is bordering on the surreal, an atmosphere that is constructed through a combination of odd characters, witty and often obscure quasi-old English dialogue, absorbing cinematography as well as a brilliantly eerie soundtrack. This culminates into a full-on hallucinatory sequence as Whitehead stuffs himself with a mouthful of magic mushrooms at one point, a segment which is at times fantastic for its imagery and tension, yet is also let down because of a reliance on out of place visual effects, most notably a kaleidoscopic-style shot which has too much of a forced feel to it. For a film that is bursting with so many of its own ideas, it is a slight disappointment to see such conventional tricks resorted to for a scene where a character is tripping. Thankfully however, after this point a slightly less psychedelic mood returned to, a move which sets the pace for a bloody and thrilling climax as the mushrooms slowly begin to wear off.

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Although A Field in England was released simultaneously at cinemas, on DVD, VOD and digital TV (film4), as with all films it is definitely best enjoyed on the big screen, or at least on as large a TV as possible with the lights dimmed down and the volume turned up high. Whilst it is not a popcorn movie or one that is likely to ever get a chance in multiplexes, it nevertheless remains a truly cinematic experience that rewards those willing to take a trip into what is a rather peculiar vision of the past.

– Lewis Hurt

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