A Field in England
a field in england | ben wheatley | amy jump | julian barratt | peter ferdinando | richard glover | surreal | arthouse | drama | history | mystery | united kingdom | ryan pope | reece shearsmith | michael smiley | sara dee | period piece
Film: A Field in England
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump
Starring: Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando and Richard Glover
This was a movie that I got turned on to once again thanks to Duncan from over on the Podcast Under the Stairs. This was featured on Opera Omnia when him and Mr. Watson, another of my favorite voices, covered all the films that Ben Wheatley had made at that time. I listened to that episode, but there quite a bit of time between then and watching this. I didn’t remember a lot. The number of podcasts I listen to probably doesn’t help. Regardless, this went on a list for movies to see that I’m now getting around to thanks to the Summer Challenge Series for the 2010s over on TPUTS.
Synopsis: amid the Civil War in 17th-century England, a group of deserters flee from battle through an overgrown filed. Captured by an alchemist, the men are forced to help him search for hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field.
As the synopsis states, we are in the middle of a battle during the British Civil War. We are seeing Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), who is a coward trying to hide from the man in charge. This appears to be Trower (Julian Barratt). Another guy comes up on Whitehead and he panics, giving away his hiding spot. Trower is killed by Cutler (Ryan Pope), who runs a spear through him.
Cutler and Whitehead head off where they encounter Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover). It is decided that they will all head to a local ale house while the battle rages on. Whitehead is looking for someone. He figures this is his best bet to survive.
The man he is searching for is O’Neil (Michael Smiley). He stole from the same man that Whitehead is working for. Whitehead is trying to bring O’Neil back with him, even though Trower is dead. We see that O’Neil is too strong-willed for that and ends up enlisting these four to help him. Going back to the synopsis again, he believes there is a treasure buried in this field. He demands Whitehead use the things he has learned with divination and alchemy to help him find it. Things are complicated though as time goes on and part of the issue is that Culter is sick.
That should be a good enough gist of what we are getting for this movie. I wanted to keep my recap brief as there isn’t much to the story. I need admit it was hard for me at times to decipher what everyone was saying. The DVD copy I picked up didn’t have subtitles and they talk fast with some heavy accents. I’m sure I get the idea overall, but there are some undercurrents here that I’ll need to pick up on with multiple viewings. I do have one last confession before getting into this. I started it one night, got 30 minutes in and had to shut it off. It wasn’t due to being bad, but I was too tired to keep up.
Where I’m going to start is that this is an arthouse movie. It is shot in black and white. I think that Wheatley did an excellent job here. It looks beautiful. Despite the story not being overly complex, what they do with the visuals make things something to watch. It almost feels like they are building character with how the shots are framed and edited. This even more so as it goes on and characters descend into madness.
Going along with this, I want to go into the acting. I would say that our star is probably Whitehead. He is an interesting character. He is a man of science, even if some of them are fringe, but also a man of God. There are multiple times we see him praying. He also is versed a bit in alchemy and divination which aren’t actual sciences. Whitehead can diagnose ailments with Cutler. He isn’t completely right, but I don’t believe science was great in this era to begin with. I thought Shearsmith was great in this role. Ferdinando was solid as Jacob along with Glover as Friend. Pope works for me as Cutler. He is interesting along with Smiley as O’Neil. They both have a temper and a presence about them. Other than that Barratt and Sara Dee, who is the voice of the field, were solid.
Since I haven’t gone into the story here, I should point out this is more of a character study. We establish this group and their different roles within it. Whitehead is a coward that needs to find his backbone. O’Neil is thief that is looking for this treasure. With this character, he does some despicable things that fit. We get an interesting look at Whitehead who is both a man of science and of religion. I believe it is Friend who is the dimwitted character who believes in God and just goes about life. Seeing how all these characters are fighting in a war that they don’t believe in. We don’t necessarily know their side, but they all don’t want to be fighting. That was my biggest take away from the story. I’d also say that they’re showing the different aspects that went into the civil war through those that were fighting in it. The other thing is that what they’re looking for isn’t important. It is finding themselves that is. I also feel that are some hallucinations going on so not everything is real from eating mushrooms. It also makes me wonder if all these characters are real or more of a path of discovery for Whitehead.
Then the last thing I wanted to go into would be the soundtrack. I thought it was good for what they needed. We are getting drum heavy music that feels like military style for the era. I enjoyed that. There are some other selections that give a different vibe that I enjoyed. It is hard to describe, but it is a soundtrack that fits this movie for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is an interesting movie. This is one that you really need to drop everything that you are doing to pay attention. After this first viewing, I can say that the cinematography is beautiful. The soundtrack fits to give a vibe of the military aspects as well as surreal feel to what we are seeing. We also don’t get a lot of effects, but it feels like we are seeing characters from a time gone by and when it wants to get brutal with realism, it can. I’m not entirely sure I understood the story after this initial viewing. I believe we are seeing a journey of self-discovery for this cowardly Whitehead, but I’m sure I’m missing more than just that. This is an arthouse movie and not one that I can recommend to everyone. It is one I’m excited to revisit now that I’ve seen to figure out what I may have missed that first time around.
My Rating: 8 out of 10