This one's for all the people out there who have been clamoring for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets The Three Musketeers. That's an admittedly clumsy introduction, but it comes for a film that, well, kind of inspires such a reaction. For better and for worse, A Field in England is mostly just odd -- so odd that pitching it as a combination of two more well known tales doesn't feel appropriate, only it feels like the sole way possible to describe it.
Fittingly, it takes place entirely in a series of fields during the English Civil War. For those of you aren't history majors, that sets the film in the 17th century, an awkward era with primitive-looking guns, frilly shirts, full armor and Royalists pitted against Parliamentarians. In the wake of an apparently bloody battle, a makeshift band of men from all walks of life, weary from the battle, make for an alehouse that one of their band claims to know the location of.
The alehouse, unbeknownst to most of them, is a ruse designed to draw them to away from the battlefield and to O'Neill (Michael Smiley) an Irishman-cum-devil figure intent on using the talents of alchemist/foppish intellectual in the group, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), and the brute strength of Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover) to unearth buried treasure.
O'Neill and his accomplice in the band, Cutler (Ryan Pope), feed the other three members a steady diet of hallucinogenic mushrooms to get their compliance in treasure hunting (read: digging holes) in an empty field. Ben Wheatley, who directed and co-wrote the film, shot A Field in England entirely in black and white, presumably to capitalize on the opportunities this afforded him with hallucinogens featured prominently in the plot. The film, or at least my rental of it, came with a warning about the entrancing strobe-like effects, and it's one well taken. The last 30 minutes made me feel like I was staring directly at Hypnotoad.
Wheatley wasn't bashful about taking (again, presumably) liberties with the continuity of the plot. Friend is shot and killed by Cutler then, of course, he reappears later in the story, alive and well, as Whitehead and Jacob attempt to vanquish O'Neill once and for all.
The dimwitted Friend steals the film with a few well-timed comedic lines, but he also sums up A Field in England when, tripping, he says something to the effect of "I'm not sure what's going on, but this is pretty awesome." (I'm paraphrasing here -- the script itself would never feature an anachronism like the word awesome in this context.) That's basically the film. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it's amusing and, even with black and white footage being suddenly quite common, aesthetically pleasing.