When I finally got round to watching Kill List several months ago, I began to fall slightly in love with Ben Wheatley’s ability to not only direct films but his audience. Despite leaving me utterly bewildered and unsure about what I had just witnessed, Kill List was admirable and exciting. Two years later Wheatley has returned with his boldest project yet. A Field In England is courageous in not only story and direction but in its release and distribution. I made the choice to watch the film on television whilst others across the country made the choice to see it in the cinema. (Sadly, being at home in Preston meant I was train rides away from any picture houses that were screening it). Whilst I sat down to watch the film on Film 4 many others across the country were doing the same. Others were watching it on Blu-ray and DVD and some were streaming it on-line on demand. Some may even have been lucky enough to catch the film from a field in England as field screenings were in discussion.
I have no doubt that the film would be sensational to watch in a cinema, but the sheer visual power, character intensity and use of cinematography and music meant that it still felt like a cinematic experience, even though I was sat in front of the television with my slippers on. A surreal experience, A Field In England drew me in slowly. The first fifteen minutes had me doubting the use of a slightly amateurish black and white aesthetic but my concerns were quickly shattered when the story began to twist, turn and crumble. Reece Shearsmith fits into the genre and absurdity of the film and seems right at home amongst both the bizarre ad comical elements of this story that is reminiscent of The League of Gentlemen. Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley seem to give themselves over to the audience. Shearsmith, in particular, gives an energetic and exhausting performance that he should be thoroughly proud of. It felt like Werner Herzog had had some kind of influence on the performances and direction as well as several styles and scenes seeming familiar to Hammer Horror. Amongst an abundance of inspiration and reference, whether deliberate or not, the film still carries the recognisable stamp of Wheatley. Kill List demonstrated Wheatley’s personal understanding of constructing the atmosphere and eeriness that so many contemporary horror films lack. Here, A Field In England has defined Wheatley as Britain’s most exciting and substantial horror director. As much as A Field in England was a directorially distinctive piece, this is also a Laurie Rose film. This cinematographer has certainly left his own mark here.
Whether or not the film enthralled you as much as it did me, there is no denying how poignant this simultaneous release is to British cinema. The film appears to have been very successful with critics and audiences of all platforms. It has been stressed that this release was quite unique and there is certainly no guarantee that this type of multiple platform premiering will work as successfully across the theatrical board but there is certainly something to be said for giving audiences a choice in terms of which way they view a film. I would have loved to have seen A Field in England in the cinema but due to my location I wasn’t able to. Yet, thanks to Wheatley’s bold decision and risk I was able to view and enjoy the film in my other half’s living room. For once, the suffocation of independent cinemas in my home town did not cause me to miss out on important, exciting, and possibly revolutionary cinema. In the last few years cinema screenings of live theatre has become exceedingly popular across the UK. Paying a small percentage of the price, audiences are able to view live theatre in a different way. Nothing beats live theatre but it’s not always an option due to price and travel. The audio-landscape is changing. For the better or worse? Who knows? Still, it is refreshing to see film makers getting involved and taking the first noble steps towards the cinematic future. Wheatley, I salute you.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.