5 July 2013; DCA
Ben Wheatley’s latest film, A Field in England, is a bold psychedelic adventure filmed entirely in monochrome which follows a group of deserters during the civil war era who lose themselves to mushrooms, madness, alchemy and greed. During the special Q&A session which followed the screening of the film, Wheatley exclaimed that he hoped nobody had “Dropped acid” beforehand. It’s true; the film was certainly a well shot, well directed film with quick cuts and dreamlike scenes that make your head spin – in the best way possible.
The surreal journey begins with an alchemist, “Whitehead” (played by Reece Searsmith), cowering away from soldiers against the backdrop of 17th century rural England. He is on a mission for his master to locate fellow alchemist “O’Neil” (Michael Smiley). Whitehead quickly discovers he tends towards cowardly self-preservation and, looking for a reprieve from his more dangerous task, joins a small group of men on a quest to abandon war efforts in favour of ale. One of the men in the group of deserters happens to be working for O’Neil’ and, after he drugs Whitehead’s other new companions with magic mushrooms, the film begins to take on sudden twists. O’Neil is intent on finding treasure that he believes is hidden in the very field in which they have been walking. Whitehead is persuaded into helping O’Neil in his pursuit of the mysterious treasure because O’Neil believes Whitehead holds “powers” beyond what he himself is capable of. Explosions, magic, death, and apparent resurrections occur as Whitehead begins to realise his full potential. Extravagant storylines of alchemy and deceit are woven through this subtle yet forceful film. It has the capacity to both confuse and amuse audiences, which certainly makes for an interesting film experience.
Although offbeat, it is difficult to keep your eyes off this film thanks to the unusual scenes and unexpected twists. The flippant and dark humour also adds to the satisfaction and it is no wonder that critics believe Wheatley to be one of the most dynamic new talents around. It is films like A Field in England that prove that low budget films can be just as successful as those with a larger budget in creating something of significance and magnitude. My own expectations were exceeded throughout and the film’s unique and chaotic style and content kept me guessing about what was going to happen right up until the final credits. The film is also original in its simultaneous release in cinemas, Blu-ray, DVD and on Film4, and there is even word of it being exported to the United States. What they’ll make of its dark British humour remains to be seen, but from a British perspective that humour, along with the film’s excellent camera shots, psychedelic edge and fantastically strange plot line make it a seductive pleasure to watch. I will without a doubt buy it to watch again in the future. Wheatley has managed to create something original, and that is surely worth getting excited about.