A Field in England (2013)


Introduction

A Field in England is a 2013 British historical psychological horror film directed by Ben Wheatley.

The film, shot in black-and-white, is set during the mid-17th century English Civil War.

The film was released on 05 July 2013 on multiple platforms simultaneously, including cinemas, home media and video on demand. It was also broadcast on Film4 on the day of its release.

Outline

During a battle of the English Civil War, an alchemist’s assistant named Whitehead flees from the strict Commander Trower. Whitehead is saved by a rough soldier named Cutler, who kills Trower before he can apprehend Whitehead. Whitehead then meets two army deserters, the veteran Jacob and the witless Friend. The four leave the battleground in search of a promised ale house that Cutler knows of. Cutler instead leads them to a field with many mushrooms growing in it , where he cooks a meal with some mushrooms and encourages the others to eat, in order to make them more obedient; save for Whitehead who is fasting. Following their meal they haul an Irishman, the Wizard O’Neill seemingly out of the ground using a rope wrapped around a strangely carved wooden post buried in the ground. O’Neill is a rival alchemist for whom Cutler works; and who had stolen documents from Whitehead’s master which Whitehead is trying to recover. O’Neil quickly asserts authority over the group and tells them of a treasure hidden somewhere in the field.

The group goes to O’Neill’s camp, where O’Neill tortures Whitehead into subservience to use him as a human Divining Rod. After using Whitehead to locate the treasure, which it turns out is near the camp, O’Neill orders Jacob and Friend to dig for it while he leaves Cutler to supervise, and goes to sleep in a tent. Jacob soon succumbs to the influence of the hallucinogenic mushrooms, and after several hours of digging he attacks Friend. Cutler laughs and urinates on them, and when Jacob attempts to attack him, Cutler accidentally shoots Friend. Whitehead is unable to save him, and Friend dies, telling Jacob to deliver a message to his wife, telling that he hates her. Cutler is forced to finish digging by himself, while Jacob lies down in the undergrowth, and Whitehead deposits Friend’s corpse in a thicket.

Cutler eventually nears reaching the treasure, attracting the attention of O’Neill, who discovers Jacob and Whitehead gone. Reaching where Friend’s corpse is, O’Neill pursues Whitehead, who ingests a considerable quantity of mushrooms, heightening his awareness but suffering a hallucinatory experience, wherein he conjures a violent wind to blow away the camp’s tent. Cutler discovers that the ‘treasure’ is just a skull, which he shoots in anger. Jacob comes back to join Whitehead in escaping from O’Neill.

Cutler angrily berates O’Neill, blaming him for trusting Whitehead and lying to him about the alehouse, which was to simply entice Jacob and Friend and abuses him. O’Neill promptly kills Cutler and then pursues Whitehead and Jacob, who scavenge Cutler’s weapons and return to the overturned camp. As they are preparing for an attack, Friend appears alive and reveals their location to O’Neill. As Jacob throws Friend to the ground to stop him, O’Neill shoots Jacob in the gut, but Jacob returns fire breaking O’Neill’s leg. Jacob dies from his injuries, after he and Whitehead surmise that the treasure was the friendship they shared. Friend brandishes Cutler’s pike and charges O’Neill, but O’Neill kills him with his last shot. Whitehead takes advantage of the situation to finally kill O’Neill by shooting him in the back of the head.

Whitehead buries his friends’ corpses in the hole and leaves the field. Wearing O’Neill’s clothes, he gathers his master’s stolen documents and returns to the hedgerow where he first met Cutler, Jacob and Friend, from which battle sounds are rising. After he wades through the hedge, he sees Friend, Jacob and himself standing together, implying he is still under the effects of the mushrooms in the field behind him.

Cast

  • Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead.
  • Michael Smiley as O’Neill.
  • Peter Ferdinando as Jacob.
  • Richard Glover as Friend.
  • Ryan Pope as Cutler.
  • Julian Barratt as Commander Trower.

Production

A Field in England is directed by Ben Wheatley based on a screenplay by Amy Jump. Wheatley became interested in the film’s historical setting of the English Civil War when he filmed a documentary about the Sealed Knot, a historical reenactment society. In his research, Wheatley also learned about the use of hallucinogens during the 17th century. He said, “People were grinding mushrooms into dust and blowing it into people’s faces and then doing magic tricks.” Wheatley sought funding to produce the film, which he had planned for years. The film was ultimately developed and financed by Film4.0, a division of Film4 that serves as an innovation hub. Variety reported that the film was described as “a psychedelic trip into magic and madness”. Wheatley said A Field in England combines “the more psychedelic elements” from his previous films Kill List and Sightseers and “weaves in our take on historical drama” with the English Civil War.

The film was shot in black-and-white. The Observer said the style was part of a resurgence with films like The Artist, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha and Nebraska. Wheatley said he and cinematographer Laurie Rose made a spontaneous decision to film in black and white. Wheatley and Rose watched Culloden and other films by Peter Watkins, as well as arthouse films from the 1960’s and 1970’s, to explore the style. The pair experimented with camera tests before filming A Field in England and committed to the “unfussy” style. With a production budget of £300,000, filming began in late September 2012. It took place in the countryside outside Guildford in Surrey. Filming lasted for 12 days.

Release

A Field in England screened in competition at the 48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on 04 July 2013, where it won the Special Jury Prize. It was released in the UK on 05 July 2013 through several platforms simultaneously. The Hollywood Reporter said, “A Field in England will mark the first time a homegrown title has been released simultaneously in theaters, on DVD, free TV and video-on-demand.” The film had received funding from the BFI Distribution Fund New Models strand, “which supports experimental release models”. Film4 and its arms 4DVD and Film4 Channel collaborated with distributor Picturehouse Entertainment and with the BFI Distribution Fund for the rollout. Wheatley compared the multi-platform release to how the band Radiohead released its album In Rainbows for free.

Drafthouse Films acquired the rights to distribute the film in North America. It partnered with Cinedigm in September 2013, and they released the film on 06 February 2014 on various platforms and formats.

For the cinema release of A Field in England in the UK, Weltons Brewery brewed a limited edition ale to give to cinema-goers. The beer had the tagline “Open Up and Let the Devil In” to tie into the use of hallucinogens in the film. The ale was bottled with yeast, which required a slow pour to ensure “continuous secondary fermentation” for the beer to be fresh.

Trivia

  • Several shots were achieved with a Holga lens, costing just 20 pounds.
  • No women appear on screen during the whole film.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Ben Wheatley.
  • Producer(s): Claire Jones nad Andrew Starke.
  • Writer(s): Amy Jump.
  • Music: John Williams.
  • Cinematography: Laurie Rose.
  • Editor(s): Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley.
  • Production: Rook Films.
  • Distributor(s): Film4 Productions (UK) and Drafthouse Films (US).
  • Release Date: 05 July 2013.
  • Running time: 91 minutes.
  • Rating: 15/R.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

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