Ben Wheatley is without the doubt one of the most exciting British film makers of his generation. Kill List and Sightseers are both bold, original and utterly fantastic films. Not since Shane Meadows has anyone grabbed the film industry by the balls and done it his own way. His latest, A Field in England, certainly continues his opus of disturbing Anglican tales borne in the shadow of Jeffrey Chaucer, but it might be a little on the mental side for the general public.
Set during the British civil war, A Field in England begins in a smoke ridden field, (in England obviously) with a frantic Reece Shearsmith attempting to escape the battle and head back to civilisation. After meeting a pair of equally cowardly chaps, the trio are captured by Cutler (Ryan Pope) en route to a local ale house. Cutler then coaxes them into a venture across the plains to find AWOL alchemist O’Neil (Michael Smiley). After feasting on a soup of hallucinogenic mushrooms, the intoxicated foursome are forced into finding a hidden treasure within the countryside by the Alchemist. Proceedings then quickly descend into utter chaos and things get trippy…like, ridiculously, headache inducing trippy.
There is no doubt A Field in England will score 5 stars across the board when it comes to the critics, and to a certain degree I have to agree with such acclaim. It is after all wholly original, wonderfully acted and for all intents and purposes, a technically crafted marvel. I do however, think that this is one of those films that is strictly for the art college crowd. A film for the movie-goer who feels intellectually superior for enjoying a film of this ilk, who doesn’t buy coffee from well known chains, or succumb to products of Nestle for morality reasons. It’s a film where 20 minutes of nonsensical quick-cut editing, that will no doubt induce epileptic fits, is regarded as groundbreaking. Where a 5 minute slow motion sequence of Reece Shearsmith walking with a beleaguered and psychotic glare is hailed as pure genius merely because it’s “a bit creepy”. In reality, scenes like this are what you would find in the showcase of a fine art degree that make Joe Everyman stare in utter bemusement wondering why they didn’t just go to the local Odeon. I am a Joe Everyman, and while I do really enjoy a cerebral film, and the films of Ben Wheatley for that matter, A Field in England feels just a bit too much. While film making is of course an art form, and should often be treated as such, a 90 minute trip into the land of fiction should fundamentally embody enjoyment. Yes, it should challenge the mind, yes it should deliver the unknown, but all Wheatley does is relentlessly poke your frontal lobe repeatedly with a stick to distract you from the nonsense unfolding. To controversially lay it out bold as brass on the table; I just could not enjoy A Field in England. Despite it’s expert balance of dark comedy and even darker satanic undertones, more often than not, I was just bored and confused. I really wanted to love Wheatley’s latest, but for all the man’s originality and undoubted talent, it was a struggle to get on board for the duration.
Having said all that however, it does seem a bit redundant to even attempt to review this film. If there was ever a piece of cinema that will divide an audience to the extreme, this is it. After receiving a highly publicised and unprecedented multimedia release on Friday, (it was released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray and broadcast on Film 4 simultaneously), the acclaim it garnered on social media was mixed to say the least. I was totally baffled to see it being lauded as “genius”, especially when that praise was often followed by “but I don’t know why”.
Ben Wheatley is a talented man, he really is, but the work of an extremely talented person shouldn’t be automatically lauded as good. While its desaturated palette looks fantastic, and the foray into the English Civil War is an interesting one, it just too frequently becomes an incoherent and confusing head fuck. Its madness will ingrain itself into your psyche long after the credits have rolled, but when the questions posed outweigh the answers given, its hard to forgive A Field in England for essentially being a pretentious bore.
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