“A Field in England” (movie review)

FieldA Field in England (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley
Cast: Reece Sheersmith, Michael Smiley, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, Peter Ferdinando

A film so defiantly weird and consciously anti-narrative that one can’t help wondering, how was it pitched? Who in their right mind would sign off on a project entirely denied saving graces like, well, a great story or likable characters or even a coherent plot line? What kind of maniac would invest good money on a script where the cast spends most of their time stumbling about in a psychedelic haze?

Whoever it was, they have our thanks.

“A Field in England” is unique and original and these days that goes a long way with me. In an era of comic book movies, CGI fests, rom-coms and Michael Bay, I cherish, I celebrate any cinematic effort that attempts to break new ground, while playing havoc with our carefully cultivated preconceptions.

“A Field in England” surprised, shocked and amazed me. I’ve never seen anything like it. Two hours later and I’m sitting here, still trying to accommodate what Wheatley et al were trying to communicate.

Do you know the story?

During the English Civil War (1642-51), three deserters from Cromwell’s ranks are forced to assist an alchemist seeking an unnamed treasure in a field near the site of a recent skirmish between the Royalists and their adversaries. The meadow, it turns out, is liberally sprinkled with a potent variety of hallucinogenic mushrooms, which some of the men ingest.

And then things really go off the rails.

Imagine a mix of Jodorowsky and Ken Russell at their wildest and wooliest and you’re starting to get the picture. Abandon any thought of cohesion or a classic story arc and just hang on for the ride. The cast, despite the daunting material, are wondrous–Michael Smiley as “O’Neill” and Reece Shearsmith as “Whitehead” are particularly fine. The ugliness and dinginess of the period are well-delineated; life is short and brutish, the quality of mercy in short supply. No one, back then, lived to a ripe, old age.

I note that this film has its detractors and fares poorly with audiences on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. I think this is largely a case of viewers attuned to facile, superficial visions being confronted by a motion picture that offers them few precedents and very little reassurance. It demands discussion and welcomes conjecture. Not content with merely entertaining, Wheatley and Ms. Jump have presented us with a scenario that takes us out of our comfort zones, disorienting and dismaying us, requiring under-used mental muscles to divine the brilliant purpose and guiding intelligence behind this magnificent mess.

“A Field in England” is ambitious, maddening, riveting.

Most of you will undoubtedly hate it, turned off by its unabashed strangeness…refusing to recognize, of course, that your disavowal reveals your own silly prejudices, the paucity and stubborn rigidity of your imagination.

ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
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