A Field In England (15)

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring Ryan Pope, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley
FACT, Liverpool
From 5th July 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Magia Metaphysica

Director Ben Wheatley has caused more than a ripple with his follow up to Kill List and Sightseers. Shot in twelve days in black and white this dystopian and visionary film carries his usual landmark traits. Psychotic behaviour and gratuitous violence in an ordinary environment, dark humour and mundane small talk; here in a field, which could be anywhere in England, or the imagination.

There are only six actors in the film and the credits do not indicate who is playing who; it could be argued that a seventh, the landscape has the biggest role of all adding it's own frisson of primaeval antiquity and danger to the unwary, as only malevolent nature can be.

The action starts with a rag-taggle group thrown together by the 'chance alchemy of circumstance'. This circumstance is the English Civil War in 1648 between Royalist Charles I, absolutist conduit of God's divine presence on earth and the Parliamentary New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell,l fighting for more individual religious tolerance and a more democratic society.

Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) escapes from the fighting through a hedgerow, berated as a coward by his commanding officer, who dies for his trouble. He is not an army man but has been tasked by his Master to retrieve important papers purloined by an Irish magus of the black arts, O'Neill (Michael Smiley), who is intent on using them to find buried treasure.

The field he is now in becomes the domain where another battle is enjoined; that between good and evil, Christ and the Anti-Christ and that between the human psyches of the two protagonists, as the naive Whitehead is literally roped-in to be O'Neill's divining rod by bag man and 'King's Angel', Cutler (Ryan Pope) Two yeoman infantry, one a simple pike-man the other a seasoned musketeer, become the workhorses and in the process also dig a hole they can't get out of themselves.

Magic mushrooms, 'sour but passable', are the catalyst for what follows as the band are led onwards by the prospect of reaching an alehouse, but Whitehead is on a religious fast and declines the meal. As the hallucinagenic effects kick-in Whitehead remains unaffected and on meeting his adversary and intentioned prisoner to be, O'Neill informs him that 'I have conjoured you; it is official, sir, you are my captive'. Inside his tent, to a backdrop of horrific screams, he uses his dark arts to excruciating effect. Broken and trussed like a demented nag and to a maniacal soundtrack, the treasure hunt begins, with catastrophic consequences.

How will things end?

Well, magic mushrooms will have a further part to play in a climactic ending, after Whitehead becomes his 'own man' through self-knowledge and a blackened presence in the celestial spheres presages doom. Elemental forces sweep the field uprooting O'Neill's tent and scattering it's coveted contents. As they are stacked into three distinct piles the allusion to Dr John Dee as the Master and his association with the secretive Order of the Rosy Cross may have been what the search was all about, not base metal itself. Perhaps though, as Whitehead explains, 'the true treasure is here between us, is it not friend'; for in the adversity of a fight to the death there can be nothing else but comradeship.

Don't worry if you missed it. By the miracle of modern science and marketing the film has been released simultaneously in the cinema, on TV via Film 4 and on DVD. It's haunting soundtrack is infectious.

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Kevin Donovan on 12th July, 2013 at 16:58
Great but it's is short for it is. You need its instead.