Ben Wheatley will try anything. He’s directed horror movies, crime dramas, action movies, comedies, and today’s film, a psychedelic black and white horror film about the English Civil War. Apart from a sardonic sense of humor you never know what to expect from Wheatley. He can play a story close to the vest or throw all rhyme or reason out the window. Sometimes he does both. He’s an unpredictable filmmaker. His next film is a Tomb Raider sequel for god sakes. Which is crazy when you consider he made today’s film about alchemy, tripping on mushrooms, and a guy showing off his diseased wang.
Set during the English Civil War (1642-1651), when Parliamentarians fought Royalists over the manner of England’s governance (not sure what most of that means), A Field in England is about a treasure hunt. That’s the most basic way of putting it. Comedian/writer/actor Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentleman) stars as Whitehead, an alchemist’s assistant. Whitehead is saved from an ornery Commander Trower (Julian Barratt) by Cutler (Ryan Pope), the pair then meet two deserters, Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover) and all get the hell out of dodge
The group traverses across the open fields of England in search of an alehouse to relax and lick their wounds. Along the way, they cook a batch of wild mushrooms which never goes well in movies. Next, they meet an Irish alchemist named the Wizard O’Neill (Michael Smiley) who tells the group there is a treasure buried in the field that he can help them find if they agree to let him lead. They do and O’Neill ties a rope to Whitehead to use as a diving rod.
What follows is several hours of guys tripping balls on mushrooms while fighting over this supposed treasure they can’t find. There’s yelling, gore, a guy who shows off his diseased wang all in a stylish package. The black and white is stark, beautiful, and helps the film feel like the past. The performances are convincing, in particular, Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead and the tension is as slippery as buttery mushroom caps.
The film would be a great play. Honestly, it might make a better play than a film as nothing visually (apart form the hallucinations) is that flashy. Another compliment I have to give is to the costumes and props. The pantaloons and funny hats with old fashioned guns provide for an aesthetic that feels distant and strange but also a part of history. Except I don’t think there were any wizards in 1640s England. Then again who can keep track?
I’m keeping this one brief because it’s a tight movie. Not much happens storywise. Rather you soak up the performances and visuals. It’s all about the experience and Ben Wheatley knows how to give you many different kinds of experiences. I just hope there are no diseased wangs in the new Tomb Raider