A Field in England

A Field in England

2013, NR, 90 min. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 7, 2014

It begins with cannonades, musket fire, smoke, and presumed-to-be-dead men walking. It ends deep in the titular field, awash in howling winds, treachery, and madness. And it’s yet another marker in English director and co-writer (with Amy Jump) Wheatley’s exemplary catalog of films that are unlike any you’ve ever seen. Wheatley’s newest is unapologetically psychedelic in both tone and tempo. The director plays havoc with the story’s timeline, intentionally befuddling the audience alongside his equally bedazzled, bedraggled characters. A Field in England might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s far and away the most enticingly original film to come out of the UK this year. (It killed at Fantastic Fest 2013.)

On the face of it, A Field in England is a seemingly straightforward story about a quartet of men (played by Shearsmith, Ferdinando, Pope, and Glover) trooping off to an alehouse during the English Civil War, and the nightmare that befalls these damned souls once they encounter O’Neil (played by Wheatley regular Michael Smiley), a catty sorcerer seeking something buried in the Earth. That description pales in comparison with the actual mind-warping surreality that plays out (in crisp, trippy, black and white, no less) even during the film’s opening moments. Jump and the genuinely visionary cinematic strategies of Wheatley will blow your mind out of your unsuspecting skull. A back-flashing musket ball couldn’t scramble your gray matter any better – and the results would be neither as sumptuous nor as painterly as Wheatley’s infinitely arresting camera eye, which is aided and abetted by cinematographer Laurie Rose.

As in Bastrop, Texas, so too in 1648 Surrey, England: Psilocybin mushrooms are devoured in haste, which offers the characters entry into heaven and hell, possibly simultaneously. Comedy, chaos, and a veritable smorgasbord of astonishingly beautiful camerawork ensue. But Wheatley affords his audience no simplicity nor easy answers even in this most verdant of English countrysides. Shot in a mere 12 days, A Field in England feels like a film both Ingmar Bergman and Ken Russell could drool over.

In many ways, A Field in England is a funhouse mirror of audience expectations and something of a filmic Rorschach test. What is all this hue and cry about, really? It’s about what you think it’s about. Wheatley offers no easy explanations. There as here, God, politics, and the devil rain down nothing but moldy crumbs for an all-too-starving – or in this case, thirsty – mankind. The lesson, just one among many: Be careful what you hunger for, lest it swallow you alive.

See “Field Trip,” Feb. 7, for an interview with Wheatley.

More A Field in England
Drafthouse Says 'Nothing Bad Can Happen'
Drafthouse Says 'Nothing Bad Can Happen'
Local distributor acquires German morality play

Richard Whittaker, May 24, 2013

More Ben Wheatley
Fantastic Fest 2015: <i>High-Rise</i>
Fantastic Fest 2015: High-Rise
J.G. Ballard adaptation becomes Wheatley's first masterpiece

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 27, 2015

Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet
Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet
The unreleased and the oddly evasive titles from 2013

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 5, 2014

More Ben Wheatley Films
Free Fire
A delirious shoot'em-up comedy

Marc Savlov, April 21, 2017

Kill List
This British crime film is very dark, funny, and violent – and thoroughly unpredictable.

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 2, 2012

More by Marc Savlov
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
The origins of the iconic Amazon princess

Oct. 13, 2017

Supreme Court judge biopic has bite

Oct. 13, 2017


A Field in England, Ben Wheatley, Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)