Ben Wheatley is making a name for himself as one of the most singular new British directors. Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers all contribute to his bid for the auteur league. His latest, A Field in England is no less distinct.
This is a bleak and disturbing piece set during the English Civil War, wherein four men seem to desert the front lines to find an alehouse, only to wind up at the beck and call of an alchemist searching for treasure in the eponymous field. From there, things get really, really weird.
Shot in eerie monochrome, this will well and truly test audiences. Performances are all decent, but the refusal to explain any of the film’s peculiarities will infuriate many, and some will no doubt dub it pretentious. On the other hand, if you have a taste for the enigmatic – and can stomach the violence and swearing – there are plenty of interpretations that can be contrived. Wheatley has completely refused to say what the film is about in any interviews, so my guess is as good as anyone’s. It seems to pit Christianity against Neitzschean philosophy whilst taking a long, dark look into the human soul and the horrors of war via magic mushrooms. Some have argued the characters are all in some kind of purgatory, which explains why certain individuals inexplicably return from the dead. But I’m not sure I agree with that interpretation. Judging by his films, Wheatley seems to have strong views on the non-existence of God and any kind of afterlife.
All things considered, A Field in England is a very dark and divisive work that nonetheless contains remarkable and unforgettable images – most notably a dark sun and a genuinely nightmarish scene involving a man tied to rope. Obviously I disagree (I think) with what the film is attempting to say, but I still found it fascinating and gripping. Definitely not for everyone though.