Film / A Field In England

"Open up and let the Devil in"

A Field in England is a 2013 psychedelic historical drama set during the English Civil War, directed by Ben Wheatley (also known for Kill List and Sightseers). Filmed on a low budget in Black-and-White, it follows the adventures of a group of deserters and their descent into hallucinogen-induced madness.

The obsequious alchemist's assistant Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is searching for an Irishman named O'Neill (Michael Smiley), who has stolen some items of great value from his master. He flees from his strict commander Trower (Julian Barratt) during a skirmish, and meets a man called Cutler along with two deserted soldiers, Jacob and Friend. Cutler entices the others to come along with him with the promise of stopping off at an alehouse. However, he soon reveals himself as O'Neill's accomplice. The two are searching for buried treasure, and take the three other men captive to help them find it, with the aid of psychedelic mushrooms.

The film is notable for being released simultaneously on television, in cinemas, on DVD and as a Video on Demand on Friday, 5th July 2013.

This Film Provides Examples Of:

  • Agony of the Feet: First Friend retaliates to an attack by Jacob by jabbing his spade into his foot. During the Showdown, Jacob almost shoots O'Neill's foot off with a musket. Followed by a slow motion closeup of the remaining bone snapping under his weight.
  • Badass Bookworm: O'Neill is a lot more dangerous than the average alchemist - hitting a man in the face with a shovel is one of his less violent acts.
  • Badass Cape: O'Neill shows his off to eerie effect.
  • Berserk Button: Don't call O'Neill a fool or question the efficacy of his or Whitehead's magic. When Cutler does both, after O'Neill fails to find treasure in the spot that Whitehead indicates, O'Neill's response is to shoot his brains out.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Whitehead proves to be far more capable of violence than first impressions would indicate, once he musters a little self-confidence.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: O'Neill threatens to turn Jacob into a frog when the latter mouths off to him. Later on, Jacob has a check-up with Whitehead, who assures him that the pustules on his genitals derive from a venereal disease (most likely syphilis), rather than being a sign of slow amphibian transformation, as he had feared. In fact, being turned into a frog is one of few complaints Jacob isn't suffering from.
  • Black Comedy: The often demented sense of the story makes it veer into this territory often. Some prominent examples can be seen below:
  • Book Worm: Whitehead says "I find pages easier to turn than people".
  • Brown Note: Just listen for when the rope drags the four into the next field.
  • Chromosome Casting: Somewhat understandable, given the limited cast and wartime setting. Sara Dee, the only actress in the film, voices the field. Jacob lampshades the trope at one point.
    "What this party lacks is the civilising influence of women"
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Friend claims that the fresh air between his ears is good for his health. This may be more true than initially thought.
  • Dead to Begin With: At least one review has interpreted the eponymous Field as being some kind of purgatory. Much is made of the fact that the characters are physically separated from the battlefield by a hedgerow, and they are headed to an alehouse that may or may not exist. The supernatural events that occur later in the film, such as characters apparently coming back from the dead, give further credence to this theory
  • Deranged Animation: Appropriately enough, given the nature of the film, the fractal logo animation for Rook Films was made by Cyriak.
  • Did I Say That Out Loud: After Cutler calls O'Neill a "charlatan and a fool" for believing his and Whitehead's alchmical ability to be real, he desperately claims he was trying to say something else, and pleads for his life - all while O'Neill calmly slides the pistol into his mouth...
  • The Dragon: Cutler, to O'Neill.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "We shall sample a better quality of suffering in this man's company, I am certain"
    • Early on in the film, Whitehead sees two mysterious figures standing in the smoke on the edge of the battlefield that appear to resemble Jacob and Friend. He claims to disregard them as simple shadows.
  • Gainax Ending: After apparently accomplishing his task and leaving as the sole survivor of the group, Whitehead suddenly encounters Jacob and Friend alive and well, looking at him. The film ends with a tableau of all three standing together.
  • Genius Bonus: Whitehead is almost certainly named after the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who was a huge influence on the work of Terrence Mc Kenna, "the Timothy Leary of the 90's," who did a lot of research with psychedelics, specifically mushrooms, alchemical history, and the relationship between the two.
    • Some of the more elaborate Mind Screw moments make more sense (well, for whatever sense is reliable in this movie) if one connects them to English folklore and alchemy, such as the part where Whitehead's group finds O'Neill by pulling a log out of the ground with a rope. Another piece of folklore that may shed more light on the story is about how going through a hedgerow (like the one all of the characters go through at the start of the film) can lead one to a completely different world.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: During the showdown, Whitehead deliberately eats large quantities of the strange mushrooms in the belief that it will give him the same powers as O'Neill. After he kills O'Neill, he literally takes up the mantle and hat, and gathers his magic notes and mirror, seemingly picking up O'Neill's work.
  • It's the Journey That Counts: After Cutler only finds old bones in the ground instead of treasure, Whitehead suggests that the friendship between him and Jacob was the real treasure. Jacob scoffs that it is a pretty sentiment, but Whitehead would no doubt starve on his own.
  • Last-Name Basis: Whitehead, Cutler, Trower and O'Neill.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: At the climax, Friend thinks the best way to take care of O'Neill is to charge at him in the open with a spear, even though O'Neill has a gun. Predictably, it fails.
  • Macguffin: Both the alehouse and the buried treasure are foci of the main characters' motivations. Both remain elusive to the end.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The audience is treated to a view of Jacob's syphilitic member. Later on, we are given a full view of Cutler urinating on Jacob and Friend.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It is never entirely clear which events are real, which are drug-induced hallucinations and which might be entirely supernatural.
  • Mind Screw: The film has many bizarre plot points that never get fully explained, such as O'Neill appearing when the others pull on a rope or the black planet that Whitehead sees coming at him several times. Then Whitehead eats the mushrooms, after which it's unclear if what we're seeing is actually happening.
  • Mushroom Samba: When Whitehead eventually eats the mushrooms (in massive quantities), the viewer is treated to a nightmarish psychedelic experience. The film opens with an entirely serious strobe warning just for this scene.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Out of the main characters "Friend" is the only one whose real name isn't given.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "The coward is here!", just before Whitehead kills O'Neill.
  • Portal Door: Passing through the hedgerow that separates the Field from the battlefield is implied to be a transition between the real world and the strange place the Field is occupying.
  • Scenery Porn: the fields around Guildford have never looked so good.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Whitehead's prose is rather elaborate compared to that of his companions. Lampshaded at least once, when Friend has a hard time understanding him.
  • The Smart Guy: Whitehead is the most educated member of the group, but is clearly out of his depth in a warzone.
  • Tableau: Several scenes are introduced with the characters standing still in a tableau pose.
  • Title Drop: During a mushroom-induced delirium, Whitehead says that he plans to write a book called A Field in England or the Myriad Particulars of the Corn Weevil.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Whitehead, after his Mushroom Samba, is able to muster the courage to kill O'Neill and fulfil his mission before apparently returning to the battlefield
  • Unexplained Recovery: Friend seems to die on several occasions, but always comes back none the worse for wear. The final shot of the film also has Whitehead seeing Friend, Jacob and Cutler, all of whom should be dead, standing before him. This could be a hallucination however.
  • Villainous Breakdown: O'Neill loses his cool and gives in to homicidal rage after Cutler tells him the hole contains no treasure, only bones... and then calls him a fool for believing Whitehead could've led him to an actual treasure.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Whitehead has one at the end, before his final confrontation with O'Neill.
  • You Have Failed Me: O'Neill's first act after his Villainous Breakdown is to shoot Cutler in the mouth with his pistol, both for his failure to find the treasure and for insulting O'Neill afterwards.
  • Your Head Asplode: The usual result of being shot in the face with a doglock pistol from point-blank range.