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New Release Review - A Field in England

Psychedelic folk-horror set during the English Civil War.

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Julian Barratt, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Peter Ferdinando


In 1648, during the English civil war, four men desert the battle, setting off in search of the nearest alehouse with plans of drinking and whoring. After eating a soup made with magic mushrooms, they encounter a mysterious Irishman, O'Neil (Smiley), who seems to exert a controlling influence over them. O'Neil enlists the aid of the men in finding treasure he believes is buried in a certain field. As the search progresses, the men begin to behave increasingly irrationally until deciding to fight back against O'Neil, who they've come to believe is the devil himself.
Take the seventies folk-horrors of Tigon, the early period fables of Ingmar Bergman, throw in a touch of Ken Russell and pepper with the odd musical number. Sounds like a recipe for either genius or travesty but the truth is Wheatley's film is merely a middling diversion. I suspect the average film-goer will avoid this like the plague but those of us with more catholic tastes will find it a mildly amusing diversion. Like Wheatley's previous two films, 'Kill List'and 'Sightseers', an engrossing set-up is let down by a poor final act. The initial mystery is thoroughly involving, and peppered with moments of sharp wit, but towards the end it becomes clear the scriptwriter is no more clued in than the audience. Shot on digital, at times it looks like footage of a civil war re-enactment. Film would have made this a lot more involving. The period film is the one genre which really suffers in the new format.
Ultimately, Wheatley's film will be remembered for its ground-breaking distribution model. On the 5th of July, in the UK, the movie will be released in cinemas, on DVD, Blu-Ray, Video on Demand, and online streaming. Most revolutionary of all is the fact that it will be broadcast the very same evening on the free to air movie channel Film4. At first this sounds like commercial suicide, until you look at the numbers. 'A Field in England' was made for a mere £300,000 while it's estimated that the average hour of UK drama costs £650,000. This means Film4, who funded the film, are getting 90 minutes of TV at a third of the regular price, while making even more from sales of cinema tickets, discs and online and VOD rentals. If successful, (and how can it not be?), this could revolutionize the UK's low budget film industry. If Film4 get behind this, they could do for the next generation of UK film-makers what Corman did for American talent in the sixties and seventies, providing a platform not available in mainstream cinema.
6/10


Eric Hillis