A Field In England [2013]

I have never walked out of a film in my adult life. There were several times during this film where I almost did. Having slogged through until the end, I can’t say I’m glad I did. I found it incoherent and tedious. I never felt any engagement with the characters or their situation at all. I found the pseudo-absurdist style irritating. In other words, I really didn’t “grok” this film in any way.

I could leave it there, I guess, but I wondered how others found it.

Geoffrey MacNab of the Independent approached it this way:

Shooting in black and white, Wheatley eschews the pomp and formality of most costume films, instead offering a dirty, grunt’s eye of the historical period he is depicting.

What is most refreshing about the film is its utterly offbeat quality. This is not another British project made to formulaic guidelines. Even the bloody final battle – which seems a bit like a spaghetti Western shootout transplanted to 17th-century rural England – confounds our expectations.

I literally cannot reconcile this with the film I watched unless I parse it through some kind of anti-critical-newspeak.

Empire gave it 5 stars (“Unmissable”) and touched on some similar concepts:

A sense of the macabre, a feel for the English landscape (and the ruination done to it by suburban development) and the eccentric/sinister character stylings of Michael Smiley (one of those you-know-the-face actors who ought to be in everything)…

Less approachable than previous Wheatley films, and liable to frustrate those wanting explanations for everything, A Field In England is nevertheless compelling and strange.

Which I can at least recognize from my experience; though describing it as “less approachable” seems to me to be unreasonably charitable.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian too was delighted by it, giving it 4 stars:

From the realms of contemporary social realism, crime, comedy and fear, he has moved on to lo-fi period drama, but cleverly alighted on the one period that suits his stripped-down visuals and subversive instincts perfectly. The English revolution may be the one that isn’t taught in schools, but it has provided the inspiration for a punk nightmare.

The connective tissue across these three glowing reviews is a willingness and ability to submerge plot, character, dialogue, acting and cinematography in favour of enjoying something purely experiential, like ambient noise instead of music.

I can’t help but lean back on my old hyper-real crutch, provided by my old pal Baudrilliard. This seems to me what happens when you make a film that’s severed all ties to recognisable human experiences. What you need in that situation is a critic sufficiently steeped in cinema to grok that, and that ain’t me.

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