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Film / A Field in England

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"Open up and let the Devil in."
— O'Neil

A Field in England is a 2013 psychedelic historical drama set during the English Civil War, directed by Ben Wheatley. 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'Neil (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'Neil'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. As of August 2019, the full film is available for free on Youtube.

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'Neil's foot off with a musket. Followed by a slow motion closeup of the remaining bone snapping under his weight.
  • Artificial Human: It's hinted that Whitehead is a homunculus of some sort. After his torture at OíNeilís hands, he begins vomiting strange stones with runes on them, to both his and OíNeilís surprise.
  • Aside Glance: Played for Drama in the scene where Whitehead is led into a tent, where he is presumably tortured. Friend and Jacob kneel with their heads bowed, and Jacob then looks up into the camera with an apprehensive expression.
  • Badass Boast: After OíNeil asserts that Whitehead cannot escape the field, Whitehead shouts that if OíNeilís correct, Whitehead will become the field instead.
  • Badass Bookworm: O'Neil 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.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Jacob is noticeably less abrasive to Whitehead after the latter makes him a poultice to soothe his yard.
  • Badass Cape: O'Neil shows his off to eerie effect.
  • Berserk Button: Don't call O'Neil a fool or question the efficacy of his or Whitehead's magic. When Cutler does both, after O'Neil fails to find treasure in the spot that Whitehead indicates, O'Neil'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'Neil 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.
  • Big Bad: O'Neil.
  • Black Comedy: The often demented sense of the story makes it veer into this territory often. Some prominent examples can be seen below:
    Whitehead [smacking Friendís hand away from his face] What is it with you and hands?!
  • Bond One-Liner: Cutler says "Looks like your prayers are answered" to Whitehead after he shoots Captain Trower.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with shaky footage of Whitehead moving through the hedgerow. In the first sequence, he's running in a blind panic away from the battle, and in the second he's moving with determination towards it.
  • Book Worm: Whitehead says "I find pages easier to turn than people".
  • Boom, Headshot!: Cutler and O'Neil both die this way, with the latter getting his whole face blown off.
  • Bowel-Breaking Bricks: Jacob has to take a massive shit early in the film, and ends up screaming in pain due to apparent constipation. The other guys have fun at his expense.
    Friend: Is it a boy or a girl?
  • Brown Note: Just listen for when the rope drags the four into the next field.
  • Butt-Monkey: Jacob suffers the most indignities out of the cast. First he gets painfully constipated, then he falls and hits his balls on stinging nettles, then O'Neil hits him in the face with a shovel, then it's discovered he has syphilis and Whitehead has to examine his penis, and then Cutler pisses on him.
    • Whitehead himself is constantly being made fun of for his dorky and nebbish mannerisms, although he doesn't suffer as much physical misfortune as Jacob.
  • 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.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: O'Neil performs some sort of horrific torture upon Whitehead as part of a spell to turn him into a human divining rod so he can locate the treasure. We don't see what's actually happening to him, but we hear the screams. Not knowing what exactly happened arguably makes the scene scarier.
  • Cowardly Lion: Whitehead. At least to begin with.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Friend, as well as O'Neil to a lesser degree.
    • Jacob indulges in this on occasion:
      Whitehead: [ranting through his Mushroom Samba] I might write a book! A Field in England: or, the Myriad Particulars of the Corn Weevil.
      Jacob: Catchy.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The whole movie's in black and white.
  • 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'Neil 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'Neil calmly slides the pistol into his mouth...
  • Dirty Coward: Whitehead starts the film running for his life from an ambush and acknowledges himself as a coward. He gets better eventually.
  • The Dragon: Cutler, to O'Neil.
  • Dramatic Wind: One is apparently conjured up by Whitehead after ingesting a load of magic mushrooms. It's crucial to defeating O'Neil.
  • Drone of Dread: Most of the soundtrack.
  • The Eeyore: Friend is passively resigned to living a life of suffering.
  • Evil Alchemist: O'Neil has at least some genuine magical ability and is the main antagonist. It's implied that the treasure in the field will make him more powerful.
  • Eldritch Location: The field doesn't seem to be wholly connected to this reality.
  • Embarrassing Hobby: Whitehead admits to having picked up lace-making in his spare time. OíNeil doesnít think very highly of it
  • Fighting Irish: O'Neil is a badass Irish alchemist.
    Friend: It's no surprise to me that the devil's an Irishman, though I thought he might be taller.
  • 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.
  • The Ghost: Whitehead and O'Neil's unseen, unnamed master.
  • Groin Attack: While taking a rather painful shit in the bushes, Jacob falls over and hits his bare balls on some stinging nettles, causing him to howl in pain.
  • Hand Cannon: O'Neil carries a massive doglock pistol that is shown to be capable of blowing limbs off.
  • 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'Neil. After he kills O'Neil, he literally takes up the mantle and hat, and gathers his magic notes and mirror, seemingly picking up O'Neil's work.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: It's never explained what the treasure is or what O'Neil intends to do with it, though his comments imply a desire to radically transform English society.
  • Hitler Cam: O'Neil is shot this way to emphasize the power he has over the group of deserters.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: When O'Neil explains his plan, he uses sexual metaphors and caresses Whitehead's face. Because of this, some viewers have speculated that whatever torture happened in the tent scene involved rape.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Cutler kills Commander Trower by impaling him with a pike at the beginning of the film.
  • 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'Neil.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: At the climax, Friend thinks the best way to take care of O'Neil is to charge at him in the open with a spear, even though O'Neil has a gun. Predictably, it fails. It's implied he did it as a deliberate Heroic Sacrifice, however.
  • Macguffin: Both the alehouse and the buried treasure are foci of the main characters' motivations. Both remain elusive to the end.
  • Madness Mantra: Jacob repeatedly shouts "I am my own man!" while Cutler forces him and Friend to dig.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The audience is treated to a view of Jacob's syphilitic, uncircumcised member. Later on, we are given a full view of Cutler urinating on Jacob and Friend.
  • Manly Tears: Jacob breaks down in tears when Friend dies after being shot by Cutler.
    • Whitehead is frequently close to tears when he is frightened or distressed, particularly whenever heís around OíNeil.
  • 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'Neil 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.
  • Minimalist Cast: There's only 5 characters in this movie, one of whom dies barely 2 minutes in.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Jacob loves his boozing and whoring. It's earned him a number of venereal diseases. Friend also says he cheated on his wife and burned his father-in-law's barn back home, but onscreen he's basically a straight up Nice Guy.
  • 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.
  • Nice Guy: Friend is The Eeyore and implied to be a Mr. Vice Guy back home, but he befriends Jacob and Whitehead pretty quickly.
  • 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'Neil.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Three: Friend dies three times. The first is in the opening scene, when he drops dead after emerging from the hedgerow, the second is when Cutler shoots him in the chest, and the third is when O'Neil shoots him during his Self-Destructive Charge.
  • Scare Chord: A very loud one when Cutler uncovers the treasure.
  • Scenery Porn: The fields around Guildford have never looked so good.
  • Screaming Warrior: Friend during his Heroic Sacrifice, though we can't hear it due to the Soundtrack Dissonance.
  • Self-Destructive Charge: Friend dies for a second time attempting to charge O'Neil, who is armed with a pistol, using nothing more than his pike. Not a Senseless Sacrifice, as it allows Whitehead to walk up and blow O'Neil's head off.
  • 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.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Whitehead suffers this for a bit after a cannon ball explodes near him at the beginning.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Jacob's catchphrase is "fuck." The other characters don't swear.
  • The Smart Guy: Whitehead is the most educated member of the group, but is clearly out of his depth in a warzone.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: OíNeil speaks rather calmly for most of the film.
  • 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.
  • Toilet Humor: Some, most of it involving Jacob.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Whitehead, after his Mushroom Samba, is able to muster the courage to kill O'Neil and fulfill 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.
  • The Unsmile: Whitehead has a big, crazy grin after O'Neil tortures him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: O'Neil 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.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: The audience gets treated to a lovely view of Whitehead vomiting up the drink OíNeil forces down his throat and rune stones.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: A more villainous example of the trope. OíNeil is more confident of Whiteheadís magical abilities than Whitehead is.
  • You Have Failed Me: O'Neil'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'Neil afterwards.
  • Your Head Asplode: The usual result of being shot in the face with a doglock pistol from point-blank range.