Saturday, 6 September 2014

A Field in England

I'd had plenty of advice regarding 'A Field in England' before watching; watch it stoned, don't watch it stoned, watch it drunk, don't watch it drunk, watch it alone, with friends, late at night, turned slightly to the left, with one hand in wallpaper paste, etc, etc, etc. Way more advice in fact than opinions. Those tended to come along as fairly definite binary oppositions; "It's amazing!" or "It's awful!"

I've never been particularly good at taking advice though and being a typically arrogant zine writer or blogger or whatever we're called this week my own opinion is the only one that counts (that's not strictly true by the way - there're at least three other people whose opinions I tolerate). So, I waited till the time suited and dropped myself into Ben Wheatley's English field.

It's amazing!

Every shot is a beautiful thing as we follow our four - then five - Civil War era gentlemen as a man at the end of his rope meets a man at the end of his tether.

Reese Shearsmith as Whitehead
Cowardly alchemists apprentice Whitehead (Reese Shearsmith) is a man trying to live up to his 'responsibilities' to his master and locate some papers stolen by O'Neill (Michael Smiley). Along with two deserters - the pox riddled Jacob and the hapless (and very funny) Friend - they are 'guided' across the field by the brutal Cutler until they find O'Neill at the end of a very long rope.

From here on in as the psychedelic mushrooms forced onto the hapless trio by Cutler and O'Neill take them deeper down the rabbit hole the narrative begins to fracture at the same rate as their psyches. Magic, madness, mushrooms and mortality flow through each other until the tether holding Whitehead to his unwanted duty and the unfulfilling life it has brought him finally snaps.

Richard Glover as Friend
It isn't a perfect film. The sound is often muddy leaving much dialogue mired in a muffled gloop and the morphing visuals during the climax are a little hackneyed - but still fun. Like I said though it's beautiful to look at and often even fiercely brutal or bitingly funny. The ensemble cast are all at the top of their games and each entirely walks in their characters skins and whilst there's a part of me that thinks it wrong to point to any one actor in particular it is Richard Glover's fabulously understated Friend that really shone for me.

Finally, the soundtrack. So seamlessly woven through the narrative ambient soundscapes, folk songs sung direct to camera and incidental music that feels anything but. It is almost a character in it's own right so integral is it to the movie.

'A Field in England' is phenomenal achievement. For such a low key, undemonstrative and downright odd movie to be able to hold your attention so keenly whilst being quite so preposterous is absolutely to the credit and talent of all involved.

PS - In case you're wondering, I watched it at night, alone and sober but moving steadily towards drunk.

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