By Kill List Bill Wheatley and written by Amy Jump, set in 17th century civil war England in a field near a battle. A group of deserters end up looking for treasure at the instigation of O’Neil (Michael Smiley). The scholar Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is supposed to arrest O’Neil but becomes his slave. There are other accomplices, Cutter (Ryan Pope), Jacob (Richard Fernando) and Friend (Richard Glover). They eat mushrooms and have psychedelic visions. They turn on each other, are there any survivors…?
This has been released in cinema, on DVD, video on demand, and on fee TV. I can remember black and white films in the 60s and 70s about such subjects as the Battle of Culloden and civil war conflicts. These were given a documentary, earthy style and there is something of this in the black and white A Field in England. It’s a bit like an old agit prop production which nevertheless doesn’t really get political, there don’t appear to be any Levellers, Diggers or Ranters in this. As if to take their cue from Thomas Hobbs “life is nasty, brutish and short” and from Roundhead and Cavalier conflict in the civil war. Films set in the 17th century are usually populated by effete dandies (Cavaliers) or very rough peasants (Roundheads). Here we only get rough peasants. The one character approximating to be a ‘gentleman’ is the very nasty O’Neil, he is like some fanatic out of Miller’s The Crucible. There are no witches in this, but the characters do like magic mushrooms and we get hallucinatory images in black and white (which is more effective than colour would be). There is an expanding black sun, the characters strike weirdly expressionist poses in tableaux, and there is stop and start camera work. It’s all rather experimental, often to the point of being wilfully obscure. The characters say elliptical things to each other. In a mercifully straight forward moment, one character speaks of the earth being turned upside down, this is a reference to a Christopher Hill book on the civil war. Wheatley’s intention is to emphasize showing rather than exposition, too many historical dramas tame the strangeness of the past by explaining it whereas if we were really dropped into a 17th century field we would probably be baffled by what’s going on. There is a good point to this but it can look like as excuse for rambling incoherence in place of any narrative push. At one stage Whitehead is inside a tent where O’Neil is doing something unspeakable to him as we hear Whitehead’s screams. Then Whitehead staggers out of the tent and has a leash round his neck. The other men start digging a hole for O’Neil as if to look for treasure, his hold over these men is like that of Musa (the devil) in Jim Crace’s Quarantine. Occasionally it almost tips into self parody, like a Monty Python history sketch or a 1970s TV commercial for cider. It’s like watching the Sealed Knot (which involves English guys dressing up in civil war costumes to re-enact battles) acting bits of Equus or Wickerman. It also looks like those awful TV ghost stories from the 70s. For all these caveats it’s certainly an original and energetic film.