A Field in England (Ben Wheatley, 2013)

What's it about? During a battle in the English Civil War, 4 deserters (including The League of Gentlemen's Reece Shearsmith) strike out across the titular field to find a pub. On the way they find a rope and literally pull into the story a sinister Irishman (Michael Smiley), who may or may not be the Devil, and who enlists their help in looking for a buried treasure in the field.



Is it any good? Uncannily reminiscent of a camping trip I had when I was in scouts. The field, the dodgy companions, the magic mushrooms, the threat of death, the penises - this film sure brought back a few memories. Wheatley's follow up to the offbeat Kill List and Sightseers is even harder to get a handle on. Best described as 'experimental', it's a strange, slippery beast which brings to mind the folk horror of Witchfinder General and the early work of David Lynch. Is that a good thing? Well, there's no denying Wheatley brings a distinctive visual flair to proceedings, filming in sharp B&W and fashioning some striking images, from the intermittent posed tableaux, to some unsettling moments of horror, to a superbly disorientating hallucinogenic sequence after one character gorges on magic mushrooms. Plus he gets good value from Shearsmith and Smiley, with Smiley's soft Belfast accent delivered to menacing effect. However, what it all means is anyone's guess - it seems to lose focus halfway through and wander off in different directions. Even Wheatley himself has admitted he is unsure about whether it's saying something profound about death, or war, or whether it's just 4 blokes tripping. Ultimately, despite its impressive look, it's too obscure to be enjoyable and isn't really outstanding in its field.


"What about ye, big lad?"
Anything else I should know? A Field in England is likely to be remembered for its unique distribution strategy. On the same day (5th July 2013), it was simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD/Blu-ray rental, through on-demand streaming and on free-to-view TV. Now, this might not make a lot of sense, but Film4, who helped fund the film, may have a very successful model on their hands for future low-budget independent films. A Field in England cost only £300, 000 to make, whereas the average cost of an hour's TV is over twice that. So, Film4 get the rights to screen 90 mins of TV at much less than the normal price, whilst also making money from whatever box-office and rental revenue trickles in. Even if that is pittance, they still make money. And part of their strategy is to make the release an 'event', whilst the traditional staggered platform release means smaller movies sink without trace in a crowded marketplace. To some extent , this worked, with several live blogs and a flurry of social network activity about the film last Friday night. There's extensive background reading about the making of the film at the excellent website here, where you can also enter a competition to win tickets to watch the film in a field.

What does the Fonz think? Perhaps An Elysian Field in England would have been a more apt title?





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