It was during Berlin Fantasy Film Festival 2013, that I watched the newest Ben Wheatley film A Field In England. The film stars and Julian Barratt as soldiers who desert the clamour of the English Civil War. Shortly after, however, they are duly seized by a tyrannical alchemist; played by a bewitching who forces them to search for treasure.
Though an independent film set during the 17th century English civil war, which may be slightly off putting to some, Wheatley manages to succinctly explain his enamorment with the period in an interview with the Quietus:
It just seemed like such an interesting period because it's the beginning of the Western world.
They'd got rid of a king and parliament's powers were increased and magic was turning into science.
It's a very messy period. But the amount of thought going on in the country at that point - everybody radicalized and marching and starving and not knowing what's going on - was fantastic.
With expectations already firmly established upon entering the auditorium, following the macabre Kill List, Sightseers and Down Terrace- lets just say that soon enough, they were completely obliterated.
What came next was 90 minutes of sublime black and white cinematography, decorous freeze-frames and a score which slipped into a gloriously tripped-out sonic montage; comfortably affirming 's position among contemporary auteurs: , and .
The film obviously pays tribute to some of Wheatley's hero's, not to mention is reminiscent of Kevin Borwnlow's 1975 film Winstanley; which is also set in the 17th century amidst social revolution. For me, the film is even Bergmanesque in style and furthermore, the hallucinogenic trip scene is reminiscent of Dali's famous dream sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound. Regardless of these influences, it still manages to avoid derivation and instead uses these well-oiled surreal techniques in order to break new frontier's in 21st century arthouse film making.
Even on a more stylistic level, the overall aesthetic is incredibly pleasing to me, where detail has been painstakingly applied to every facet of it's development. From the purity of the script which abides by the 17th century version of the dictionary, to the costumes which were modeled on revolutionary pamphlets. The re-enactments even draw on old 17th century faery tales, otherworldly portals and other superstitions which circulated at the time. How this all fed into the entire aesthetic really reaches its apex during the hallucination scene (below):
To me, this film is so exciting, predominantly because of its evocation of pastoral England matched with a visionary score and transformative visual effects. The film- which is entirely set in a field, as per the title- has a pervasive sense of bucolic nostalgia. Be it for love or hate, A Field In England sees Wheatley join a canon of artists and writers who have historically taken inspiration from the sublimity of the English countryside, from the celebrated poet William Blake to the pioneering artworks of J.M.W Turner. Viewing A Field In England is a powerful sensory experience. You can almost feel the squelching mud beneath your boots, the sharp meadow grass scratching at your ankles and oh yes, the euphoric sense of discombobulation which all coalesce in a brilliant and immersive way; somehow providing an overwhelming sense of home.
Source: The Quietus