A Field in England
Hallucinatory Civil War thriller from director Ben Wheatley
Despite its importance to British history there have been very few films dealing with the English Civil War, which was part of the appeal for director Ben Wheatley: a chance to set a film in a relatively unexplored, unfashionable era. Drawing on the rich tradition of folk horror found in the films of Hammer or titles such as The Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan's Claw, A Field in England (as the name suggests) is a very British take on the occult.
Four men (Reece Shearsmith, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope and Richard Glover) desert the battlefield, their path to freedom leading them through a mushroom field where they find themselves forced to search for a mystical treasure by O'Neil (Michael Smiley). In terms of conventional storyline that really is the extent of the plot, however the film takes on a surreal tone. The search being both real and imaginary, their other worldly journey a combination of occult phenomena and the effects of psilocybin fungi.
Wheatley keeps the story tight (only six characters appear onscreen throughout) and chooses to shoot in stark black & white, painting the screen with thick shadows. It's beautifully shot - Wheatley's regular cinematographer Laurie Rose makes rural England feel suitably ominous and eerie. The static portraits and soundtrack emphasise the feeling of encroaching madness. Shearsmith is one of the UK's best character actors – no one quite captures feverish psychosis as succinctly. The oblique story as reality unravels – at times becoming a barrage of fast edits, stroboscopic images and tonal noises – and brief moments of shocking violence mean it doesn't offer easy answers, but for many its unique take on British folklore will prove Wheatley is one of the most fascinating directors currently at work in the UK.
The distribution of A Field in England is also worth noting. If you want to see it on the big screen it opens in cinemas on Fri 5 Jul; if you want to own it there's a DVD and VoD release, or you can watch it for free on Film4 on the same day.