I don’t really know how to review A Field In England. It is clearly not a film for everyone – a black and white film set during the English Civil War with a cast of six that starts off as an odyssey in search of a pub and ends as… what?… a descent into madness and Satanism? That’s not really a spoiler given that I don’t really know what was going on.
I only managed to find two reference points for the film, and even then I’m not sure they’re appropriate. The first is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a comic play and subsequent film filling in the lives of two incredibly minor Shakespeare characters. In that piece, the two characters spend most of the time walking through countryside while musing on life, much as the first half of the film mainly follows three men on their quest for a drink.
But in the second half, things take a different turn. Whitehead (Reece Sheersmith) is revealed to be some kind of shamanic vessel that psychopathic Irishman O’Niell (Michael Smiley) wants to use to find an artefact of some kind.
Look, that’s a terrible description of what happens. And what happens isn’t really important. It’s about mood, about creating a sense of unease, it transcends the events it presents
The other touchstone that I have for it is Dead Man, a magnificent film from 1995 by Jim Jarmusch and starring Johnny Depp. In that film, Depp takes a trip out west in the 1880s to take up a new job. When he arrives he finds his job has been taken and quickly becomes an outlaw, before heading on a spiritual journey through the wilderness with a native American guide called Nobody. That film has a greater sense of narrative to it and, for me, is more successful in what it achieves, but both films are unsettling, both break from convention and both will only work if approached with an entirely open mind to the journey the director intends to take you on.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you if you’d like A Field In England. I know plenty of people who would hate it. I liked it. It’s not an unqualified success in my eyes, but it’s the kind of interesting experiment that cinema needs to stay vital as an art form. Pretentious much? Yes, but look, go with it.
Length: 1hr 30mins – Feels Like: 1hr 40mins