Film Review: A Field in England - Ben Wheatley's glorious low-budget Civil War drama

4.00

Ben Wheatley, 90mins. Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Richard Glover, Michael Smiley (15)

A Field in England defies easy categorisation – and that is its glory. Ben Wheatley's English Civil War drama/horror picture is a wondrously strange affair that bends genre rules.

Shooting in black and white, Wheatley eschews the pomp and formality of most costume films, instead offering a dirty, grunt's eye of the historical period he is depicting. The action here, as the title makes clear, is hyper-localised – the film is set almost entirely within a single muddy field.

Reece Shearsmith plays Whitehead, a well-spoken but cowardly figure who had been on a mission to discover the alchemist O'Neil (Michael Smiley) before running away. By a neat irony, he and some other stragglers are kidnapped by O'Neil (Michael Smiley). They are set to work in a field thought to hold a "great treasure". O'Neil thinks Whitehead's divining powers can help him find it.

The film-maker's boldest stroke is to introduce a strong psychedelic element to the storytelling. Around the rim of the field are magic mushrooms which the characters consume with predictably phantasmagoric results. We may be in Civil War England but some of the trippier sequences here rekindle memories of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's swinging London-set Performance.

Wheatley's macabre and funny previous film, Sightseers, was undermined by its cross-referencing of other movies and its casual sadism. Thankfully, here, he is not trying to hide behind sardonic British humour. There are rough patches. In its weaker moments, the film does resemble old Comic Strip Presents... skits on movie genres. Nonetheless, once Michael Smiley's alchemist O'Neil hoves into view, the film-making takes on a new intensity. O'Neil dresses exactly like Vincent Price's equally devilish character in Michael Reeves's Witchfinder General (1968). Influential horror historian David Pirie's description of Vincent Price as "a superb presence of inexorable vindictiveness around which the other characters move with fascinated repulsion" could equally well apply to Smiley's O'Neil.

What is most refreshing about the film is its utterly offbeat quality. This is not another British project made to formulaic guidelines. Even the bloody final battle – which seems a bit like a spaghetti Western shootout transplanted to 17th-century rural England – confounds our expectations.

Video: WARNING - This clip contains plot spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power