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A Field In England (2013, UK)

04/07/2013

Director: Ben Wheatley     Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, Sara Dee, Julian Barratt

a field in englandThe window between a movie’s cinema release date and its subsequent availability has long been a bone of contention within the industry. In the old days (back when you had a choice between VHS and Betamax – anyone under a certain age would benefit from Googling those) you could expect it to take a year or two from when a film hit the cinema to its subsequent release on rental video tape, never mind retail. As for TV forget it. It could often take years for a film to find its way onto cathode ray tube (again, kids, look it up) and when they did it was often a big deal.

Fast forward twenty years and the world of home entertainment is a very different place. The rental window pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. Films become available on DVD a few months after their runs in the cinema (depending on the stature of the film of course – don’t make much money at the cinema and you make it to DVD all the quicker). The debate has raged for a while now as to whether there should be a release window at all between cinema screen and TV (or indeed, computer) screen.

That’s why the release of Ben Wheatley’s latest film, A Field In England, is a bit different. You might even say it’s as bold and unusual as the film itself. You see, A Field In England is released on Friday simultaneously to cinema, home video and internet services and is also being shown on Film 4 on Friday night. A risky strategy perhaps? After all, why pay to see it in the cinema or on DVD when you can just watch it on TV? I have to say I largely approve and hope it pays off – after all not all films (particularly not independent works like this) get a general cinema release, so it gives you choices if you want to see the film at the same time as everyone else. Also, it allows people to try out a film without having to resort to illegal downloading. It is, after all, an unconventional work and so by offering it up on television it gives people the opportunity to fall in love with it and then buy a copy for repeated (ad-free) viewing.

Telling the story of a group of ragtag refugees from a battle during the English Civil War, it focuses on the sinister events that befall the group when they stumble upon a mystical mushroom circle in a field. Eating a stew laced with the mushrooms and under the influence of a deranged alchemist, the group experience nightmarish visions that bring them to the brink of disaster.

a field in england 2

It’s a fantastic film. Compact, low budget and all the better for it, it’s driven by the performances and exactly the kind of disconcerting imagery and editing you’d expect from the director of the fabulously dark and disturbing Kill List. The League Of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith carries the brunt of the burden as the cowardly astrologer who has been tasked to track down a villainous alchemist who has raided his master’s library, himself played by Kill List’s Michael Smiley both of whom are fantastic. Shearsmith particularly feels like a product of 17th century England, the convoluted, archaic dialogue which should be impenetrable coming naturally to him.

Shearsmith doesn't just look the part, he seems completely at ease with the period dialogue and the overwhelming sense of foreboding.

Shearsmith doesn’t just look the part, he seems completely at ease with the period dialogue and the overwhelming sense of foreboding.

Performances aside it comes down to how Wheatley incorporates the landscape as another character with his impressionistic, black and white imagery creating a sense of a power more ancient than the minds of men, a deep, inherent force of nature that catches these men in its grip and refuses to let go. It’s the kind of agrarian horror that features so prevalently in films like The Blood On Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man but stripped back to its elemental basics and allowed to grow within the hearts of the characters.

A Field In England is one of those films you don’t so much watch as experience. It engages the senses more than the brain, its hallucinogenic visions defying rationale and narrative in favour of a more emotional, primal response. I can’t wait to see it again, the only question is, which way will I watch? After all, for the first time probably ever, I actually have a choice…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    04/07/2013 15:53

    That sound GREAT! Any chance it’s being released in the states, too?!

    • 04/07/2013 16:03

      I believe it’s going to be released in North America later in the year via Drafthouse Films but unfortunately the specifics seem a bit lacking just now…

  2. 18/07/2014 14:38

    very good movie I recommend

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