Carrying on from Screen Watch’s discussion on the future of cinema, yesterday saw the universal release of Ben Wheatley’s new film, A Field In England. It was released in cinemas, on DVD and on home demand streaming services on 5th June, as well as being aired on Film4. It is the first film to be developed and financed by Film 4.0, a division of Film4 that focuses on innovative digital ways to produce, market and distribute films.
While it’s difficult to imagine the next Iron Man film having a multiplatform release any time soon, A Field In England lends itself well to this kind of release. With a £300,000 budget, shot in black and white and featuring an oftentimes confusing story, the experimental style is unlikely to have drawn in millions at the box office.
Nevertheless, A Field In England is a fascinating experience. The historical film, set during the English Civil War, features just a handful of characters and one location: surprisingly enough, a field in England. The story follows a fleeing alchemist, Whitehead, who meets up with other travellers and are forced to help find treasure buried in a field.
What ensues is a bizarre, borderline arthouse picture which explores mysticism, the occult and obscure hallucinations. Director Wheatley explored the 17th century use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in performing magic tricks and used this as an opportunity to include some mind-bending sequences in the film. The film’s forewarning of strobing sequences should not be taken lightly, and often the film feels more like an art installation than a narrative film – more at home in the Tate Modern than on the cinema screen.
Ben Wheatley has made a name for himself as being more out-of-the-box than conventional directors, to which his previous films Kill List and last year’s Sightseers can attest. With A Field In England he seems to have taken a conscious step further in that direction – possibly too far. Amy Jump’s screenplay features some wonderfully rich dialogue, but the narrative is often so far bent and obscured that the audience is left more confused than enthralled.
The moody photography and score are an unsettlingly atmospheric combination, and Wheatley’s confident direction certainly makes for a compelling watch. Bizarre, often confusing and always intriguing, A Field In England may not find a welcome home everywhere it looks. However, when treated as an experiment thanks to its unusual style and pioneering release, it is a very British film that will be talked about for a long time yet.