A Field in England

A Field in England

  • A Field in England is sometimes experimental and mostly successful.
  • Primarily because Director Ben Wheatley capitalizes on his lush setting, using black and white photography to craft an impressive visual spectacle.
  • Which the director further enhances with clever artistic flourishes, like having actors stand still for long seconds, as the camera lingers on their frozen forms. Each time Wheatley uses the technique, he emphasizes significant narrative developments and propels the plot.
  • His non-conventional camera angles and image frames are equally successful.
  • So are the movie’s costumes, hair styles, props, and, indeed, color palette. Through all of these elements, Wheatley  immerses us in seventeenth century England.
  • Writer Amy Jump’s screenplay does the same. The characters speak in lilting vocabulary that fuses Shakespearean romanticism and Tom Stoppard comedy, a combination that makes Jump’s dialogue accessible but also fittingly archaic.
  • In other words, A Field in England has a spectacular sense of period.
  • Which doubtlessly helps explain how it survives one trait characters. Friend (Richard Glover) is the stupid one; O’Neill (Michael Smiley) the sadistic one; Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) the intellectual cowardly one. Such thinly developed characters usually ruin a movie, but here they do not.
  • No doubt courtesy, at least partially, of the actors. Each of their performances are note-perfect, always delivering exactly what the picture needs.
  • Still, weak characterization remains one of A Field in England’s primary issues. Through the film’s first half, Cutler (Ryan Pope) and Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) are interchangeable ciphers, both of them angry travelers and naught else, a fact that proves problematic midway through when Cutler starts threatening Whitehead. Because he isn’t initially defined as ‘O’Neill’s lapdog,’ Cutler’s eventual behavior is off-putting.
  • A second, and more significant, issue is the way Wheatley blocks his actors and uses slow-motion, random images, and rapid editing to illustrate the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms. He does not produce a sense of crazed mania, but rather a tedious onslaught of overstimulation that becomes increasingly difficult to watch and thereby reduces, not increases, the viewer’s engagement.
  • To Wheatley and Jump’s credit, however, A Field in England does not succumb to either flaw. Its friendship theme, gorgeous cinematography, artistic flourishes, enchanting dialogue, period details, and strong performances are enough to retain the viewer’s investment.
  • And to make A Field in England worthwhile viewing.
  • Final Grade: B

15 thoughts on “A Field in England

  1. A grade letter B is fair enough. I’m happy you gave this flick a shot, a lot would just dismiss it. It’s definitely a work-out and a strain to digest, but well worth it, I think. Really love this flick and Mr. Wheatley! Terrific work, my friend :).

    • Thank you. I thought I remembered you recommending it some months ago, before it was released stateside.

      B is the same grade I gave Taxi Driver, Gravity, Captain Phillips and a slew of others. Which, I think, puts this in pretty good company. (Because it is a pretty good film.)

    • I haven’t seen Wheatley’s other work, but this one is good.

      I think release dates are funny. It’s collecting dust on your shelves, and has been for ages, but it was just released stateside approximately one week ago. 🙂

      • It was out here months ago, man. They released it in cinemas, DVD and on television all on the same day. One of the first films to do that I believe. At least in the UK anyway.

      • I don’t know any to do that, either. Here this one was simultaneously released in theaters and on demand (which is how I saw it). I didn’t check if it was also on DVD.

  2. I quite enjoy Ben Wheatley. So far, I have seen Sightseers, and recently, The Kill List. And both are decent enough flicks! His next film High Rise looks very appealing as well. Been looking forward to this, so glad to see a review of it. The mushroom stuff sounds annoying, and unnecessary but hopefully it is better than it sounds.

    • I know what he’s doing with the mushrooms – trying to create manic energy that represents the altered state users of such drugs might experience. I just don’t think he succeeds.

      All in all, though, this remains a good film. I haven’t seen his work, but I am now willing to. 🙂

  3. I’m with you in regards to a B. This one teeters ever so close to tedium on occasion, but its beautiful cinematography and quaint oddness just about make it work. So very different to Wheatley’s Kill List, which is blunt, brash and exceedingly violent. I prefer A Field in England.

    Great review!


  4. Nice review! I haven’t seen any of this guy’s other stuff, but from what I’ve read – in this review and elsewhere – I think I’d like this one. Anything that goes for something a bit experimental without devolving all the way into complete arthouse what-the-fuckery sounds promising to me. 🙂

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