At the Movies - A Field In England - review

Michael Smiley in 'A Field in England'.
Michael Smiley in 'A Field in England'.

Ben Wheatley’s new film is so dark that even electricity would struggle to brighten things up.

But it’s the type of darkness that deserves to find a place in the wonder of cinema.

Wheatley is perhaps the most prolific English director around; after ‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’, ‘A Field in England’ is his third film in as many years.

‘Kill List’ is a hit man film that develops into almost uniquely British horror and then there’s last year’s ‘Sightseers’, a perfect blend of the breathtaking beauty of the North of England with murder and Wheatley’s unique macabre sense of humour.

‘A Field in England’, which includes some of the best elements of both ‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’, is typical Wheatley fodder in the sense that it’s totally atypical - it’s like nothing ever seen on the big screen before.

It’s the first film to go on general release on a variety of platforms (cinema, television, download and online rental) in the United Kingdom and I suppose by agreeing to this, Wheatley has essentially made his film even more wondrous in that the mass release supports the movie’s appetite for the unconventional.

Shot in black and white and set during the 17th century English Civil War, ‘A Field in England’ is largely filmed in, well, a field.

A scholar by the name of Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith - ‘The League of Gentlemen’) escapes his master, Trower (Julian Barrett - ‘The Mighty Boosh’), and meets three soldiers. A mysterious alchemist by the name of O’Neil (Michael Smiley - ‘Kill List’ and ‘Luther’) arrives in the field and forces the men against their will to help him search the field for treasure.

If you are the kind of person who likes their movies to be totally upfront and unambiguous then it’s fair to say you’d probably be frustrated by Wheatley’s latest offering.

Be that as it may, ‘A Field in England’ deserves to be seen by as wide ranging and as large an audience as possible.

The refreshing thing about Wheatley is that refuses to be limited by genre film making and he has no problem with mixing 17th century England with a fixation with the macabre - the end result is a mystifying British horror.

‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’ were both derivative and ‘A Field in England’ is to a certain extent the same.

Symbol aficionado Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ and the recent amazing Hungarian film ‘The Turin Horse’ can both be felt here.

Some will absolutely love ‘A Field in England’ while others will dispel it as pretentious and irksome.

But the film’s thirst for the unconventional is what makes it not only utterly reviving but brilliant.

Some of what takes place in the film will be discussed for years to come and the meaning of the actual field will be no doubt be one of the most contentious topics of conversations in British cinema this year.

Shearsmith’s performance as Whitehead is tremendous whilst Belfast-born actor, Michael Smiley, as O’Neil, takes us on a magnificent carousel of acting which is both terrifying and ridiculously gripping.

Wheatley is like a drug and a fifth fix couldn’t come sooner.

‘A Field in England’ is currently available to buy or rent online.

Verdict: 4/5 - Is there another director quite like Ben Wheatley? Perhaps not but that’s why so many of us adore his films.

‘A Field in England’ is where period piece meets the macabre world of Wheatley’s British horror film. Not only does it work but it leaves you begging for more.

Its symbols and themes are Bergmanesque but its horror is strictly Wheatley.

Shearsmith and Smiley are excellent but the field is where the post-film conversation is at.