I’m not entirely sure what happened in A Field in England. I’m pretty sure I liked it. On the surface, some guys were looking for treasure in a field during the English Civil War, but then there’s probably a half dozen layers of metaphor that I don’t get.
The film throws you into chaos, as one of the main characters, Whitehead, is ejected from the battle into an adjacent field, and lets you try and figure out who’s who and what’s going on.
Whitehead is a manservant or general gofer for a master who isn’t ever named, but who has sent whitehead to recover a man named O’Neill, formerly employed in the same manner as Whitehead before stealing some of the master’s documents and fleeing. Whitehead joins with three soldiers who are anxious to abandon the war and head to a nearby pub that may or may not exist.
Then it gets weird. I’ve read a synopsis that states that they’re “captured” by Michael Smiley’s O’Neill, but it’s not quite as straightforward as that. O’Neill makes his appearance entangled in a rope, attached to a strange post, hauled into view by the others. Then he takes charge, and enslaves Whitehead and the others in the treasure hunt because Whitehead has some kind of psychic ability to find it, I think.
I won’t say much more about the plot. There isn’t much more “plot”, really. Where this film excels is in visuals and sound. For maybe around the first half, it seemed like it could have been adapted from a play, mostly men talking as they walk through a field, which was entertaining, dense, period-appropriate dialogue combined with lowbrow humour. The idea of a play was blown away by a long, hallucinogenic mushroom trip that throws in all the tricks of cinematography and editing it can think of.
The sound editing was equally well done, maintaining a constant background of unease, while the visuals settle down a bit from the trip, but still deal in long sequences of slow motion, and several shots staged as if they were still images.
In the negative, it takes a while to establish everyone’s relationship with each other (wait, one of them is working with O’Neill?), and the sheer level of visual trickery at times takes you out of the film thinking “they’re doing some crazy filming stuff” rather than “these guys are having a crazy trip”.
Originality is the word though. I haven’t seen anything like this, really ever, and that’s almost revolutionary these days. I would take one film that’s burdened a little with chaos and an overabundance of ideas than five competently made, soulless thrillers. I’ve only seen this and Kill List from director Ben Wheatley, but on that basis, I look forward to owning a substantial box set in ten years’ time.