A Field in England Review

Panicking their way through the shrubbery, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) delights audiences almost immediately. A Field in England wastes no time at all in presenting its fields as destitute, glum places filled with explosions and undesirable consequences. As Whitehead runs through, the drumbeat rising and the explosions ringing through his ears, there is a trauma presented by Ben Wheatley. His direction, conforming to the rigid beauty of the black and white cinematography and all it has to offer, is a blessing in disguise for this 17th-century set feature. Beautiful and delicate, the scenery that surrounds the cowardly characters is impressive and brings with it a simplicity that allows the audience to focus on what these men have to say for themselves. 

What they do have to say is of little brilliance. They are self-doubting individuals better suited to a sitcom format. Yet here they are, destined to wander through fields in search of an odd treasure that may or may not even be there. It is, after all, just in a field in England. That is certainly the aim of the plot, but the aim of the characters and narrative is totally different. At least Michael Smiley and Julian Barratt have dialogue that gives them a reason to deviate from the narrative. They are exploring their own minds, as is Shearsmith. Characters who are self-centred will adapt their own experiences to the problems of others, or just simply deflect the issues at hand. For this band of sudden battle deserters, that provides an awkward comedy that defies the expectations and tones of this historical fantasy thriller.  

But its light tone may be off-putting to some. Wheatley casts a group of comedians, and they do well to bring the severity of warfare and alchemy to life. It is the lighter notes that are found underneath their performances that settle in uncomfortably. Their responses to events around them are natural, but inherently humorous because of how they are performed. Shearsmith pleading for his life has an unnatural ability to make up a wry smile from its delivery, and that may be the point for A Field in England, but it is a clash of tones that don’t quite work. A shame, too, but the blur works well enough for those that wish to see a crashing of deep, uncomfortably delivered dialogue and medieval banter that lingers on the stereotypes of ale drinkers and cowardly soldiers. 

At least that is presented well enough. Wheatley’s eye for artistically pleasing scenery and soundscapes is well-defined, although how much of it truly matters is up to the audience. “We’re not running away, we’re going for beer,” is a quote that will connect with those that hold a love for the pub, but few others. It is a throwaway line. A Field in England is full of them. But those throwaway lines are provided by throwaway characters. No wonder everything is pointless, the characters know it, Wheatley knows it, and he shares that revelation openly with the audience. It is a key and enjoyable strength that makes A Field in England look good, feel great, yet successfully disgust an audience with 17th-century issues and modernised dialogue that brings out the worst in this ensemble.  

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