Sunday, 3 November 2013

English Pastures

Art is a word that gets bounced around a lot in the creative industries. Cinema is no exception. Of course, there will always be arguments over what actually constitutes 'art' and many will dispute items that are supposed to be 'art'. Well today we look at a film that has been labelled under this particular term, but what actually is it? This is A Field In England.

It's the English Civil War. An assistant to an alchemist, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), clambers over/ through a bush to escape the prying eyes of his master. Further down the bush line, a man, Friend (Richard Glover), crawls through the growth only to collapse on the other side, the life leaving his body. A third solider, Cutler (Ryan Pope), appears and checks the lifeless body before running to try and help Whitehead. Finally, a fourth man, Jacob (Peter Ferdinando), a deserter, shows up, checks the dead body - who turns out to not be dead - and swears a lot. The four of them decide to head for an alehouse but along the way they pull a man through to the world with a piece of rope. The man is O'Neil (Michael Smiley), an Irish alchemist with great power and intent on finding a treasure in the field they are in. He utilises Whitehead's abilities in order to hunt and as they go along, the group have to perform some surreal tasks in order to get the treasure.

Some describe the film as a thriller.

With only a five man cast - well, pretty much - all of the performers need to give brilliant performances. Fortunately they do. In some ways, it is a wonderful achievement in writing as the characters on screen create a perfect balance of emotions and atmosphere between them - something that is especially difficult in the world of the abstract. Shearsmith's Whitehead is a level headed, intelligent man that is somewhat more accessible than the others. He questions the abnormal and objects to things he deems morally unsuitable. A point of view in which the audience can adapt to. Ferdinando and Glover's deserter characters bring comedy release to what is, on the large scale, a dark film. Glover's friend, particularly, is wonderfully entertaining with his slow nature and impeccable timing. His speech about his wife is a particular highlight of this. Ryan Pope, is the adaptable Cutler. He lures both the audience and the other deserters into a false sense of security, knowing of the darkness ahead, and yet he never seems to falter in charm or authority. Finally, Smiley's O'Neil is a horrible character. Powerful, charming, and yet completely detestable. Perhaps it is Shearsmith's likeability clashing with O'Neil's evil that emphasises how undesirable the character truly is but either way, nothing can be taken away from Smiley's dominating, engaging, and captivating performance.

Well, they look like a civil bunch.

There is something about A Field In England's production that is extremely interesting. Perhaps it is the actors standing in tableau at the beginning of important scenes or the long drawn out slow motion sequences, or the strobe like hallucinations, but there is definitely something that makes A Field In England truly unique. In a similar way, Ben Wheatley creates a haunting picture. The frantic editing contrasting with the slow scenes combined with a ominous score build an atmosphere of mystery and fear. The fear of the unknown is arguably the most universal of all fears. Wheatley immerses the audience and characters in this with hundreds of unanswered questions. However, it is important to note that the questions do not, in fact, need answers. We accept the reality that Wheatley presents us with, even if we do not understand it. The decision to shoot in black and white only adds to this world of maniacal magic within the fairy circle and really emphasises the hallucinogenic sequences. A truly spectacular exploration of the human mind in some respects, even if you do not truly follow what actually happens in the film.

An exciting and interesting piece of cinema. Some may call it art, some may not, but it is certainly an interesting film and one well worth a watch. It will definitely bend your mind and give your brain a good work out. It will, no doubt, make you feel highly uncomfortable at some points as well. Wheatley's world is not exclusive to on screen. Its presence fills the room you are in and chills you.

Best Bit? There are several exciting sequences. Some would say the tent scene, others would say the tug-of-war. I personally feel that The strobe scene was the most powerful. The most haunting, certainly, and a really intriguingly edited sequence that raises questions of deeper meaning within the film.

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