Alice Jones' Arts Diary

From Sightseers to Civil War: Ben Wheatley directs his fourth film in three years (in a field in Guildford)

Nightmarish black comedy A Field in England was shot in just 12 days 

His grisly caravan murder spree Sightseers was the surprise, award-winning hit of last year. Now, with the unfortunate holidaymakers barely cold in their graves, Ben Wheatley is back in cinemas with a psychedelic period drama set during the English Civil War.

“We’d made three films in three years and we didn’t want to lose the momentum of Sightseers while we waited for our next, bigger, film to come together. So we thought we’d slip one in under the radar”, the director tells me. A Field in England was shot in just 12 days, in a single field in Guildford. “But ‘A Field in Guildford’ is not such a brilliant title”, says Wheatley. “Oddly, a lot of movies get shot in Guildford – who knew? We literally shot the whole film in what was the overflow car park for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. While we were there they were shooting Thor 2. One day we saw a massive balloon in the sky; it was full of paparazzi snapping pictures of the set.”

A Field in England is a nightmarish black comedy about a group of deserters who end up in the clutches of a strange alchemist in a magical field. Part Witchfinder General, part Time Team, it stars Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) and Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) and is written by Wheatley’s wife Amy Jump, who also collaborated on his breakout film Kill List and Sightseers

Wheatley had wanted to make a Civil War movie since the start of his career when he began to film historic battle re-enactments as a sideline to his job in corporate video-making. Inspired by Paul Verhoeven, who started out shooting Dutch military training exercises, he began to follow the historical re-enactment society The Sealed Knot as they staged their costumed Civil War battles around the country. “It was a way of working on a massive scale but with not very much money”, he recalls. “When you see it in action, it’s a mixture of history, sport and fashion - bizarre but brilliant. So I followed them around for a bit and ended up making a little recruitment video for them. It’s now in my loft somewhere.”

Will A Field in England be as gory as Sightseers? It’s a very earthy film; every bodily function is represented. There’s a gun battle with muskets which is quite spectacular. And quite a lot of singing.” The film is shot in black and white, using lenses hand-made from plastic children’s toys, among other things. “It was something I’d always wanted to do. Black and white is all about texture and contrast. You see lace, the texture of the grass and the lines in the mens’ faces.”

The film will be released in cinemas nationwide, and on TV, DVD and Video-on-Demand on the same day, 5 July – the first UK film to follow such a distribution model, in partnership with Film 4, Picturehouse Entertainment, 4DVD and Film 4 Channel.

“We thought about doing something like that after we released Kill List. When that was on television there was a massive audience and it seemed a shame that so many people had seen it so late in the game”, says Wheatley. “This is a way of harnessing all that focus and publicity in one moment. Sure, it’s designed to be seen in the cinema but not everyone will be living near a cinema that has it on. And people are busy. I’m a big film fan but I often can’t get to the cinema during a film’s run – even with big films I really want to see.”

Wheatley is now working on his fifth feature film, Freak Shift, a monsters vs cops sci-fi movie, set in America.

A Field in England is released in cinemas, on Film4, VOD, DVD & BLU-RAYon 5 July

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