Film Extra: A Field in England
A Field in England. (15.) Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Reece Shearsmith, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, Michael Smiley and Julian Barrett. Black and white. 90 mins ***
A field in England is what it promises and a field (or maybe two) in England is all it gives you. In that field four men decide to take a break from their exertions on either side of The English Civil War and retire to an agreeable local pub. Instead they find themselves embroiled in a gruesome, psychedelic and often very funny version of the Pardoner’s Tale as a brutal alchemist (Smiley) recruits them into a search for buried treasure.
Ben Wheatley may be the most determinedly English of directors and the film is like some weird off shoot of Hammer House of Horror. He’s in the eccentric, singular tradition of Roeg and Russell and like them he seems averse to appealing to anything but the most select of audiences.
In last year’s Sightseers – a magnificent serial killers-on-a-caravan-holiday comedy – Wheatley seemed to extend a welcome to a wider audience but now he has retreated back into micro budget safety zone. A lot of this matches the dark hilarity of Sightseers but at times its oblique storytelling and strange mysticism come across as more insular than intriguing. At these points you become acutely aware that you are just watching a bunch of people - granted, people in period costume - wandering around in a field, in black and white and you find yourself thinking that maybe you can push this low budget lark a bit too far.