A Field in England

A Field in England ★★★★★

No idea what the FUCK was going on but I fucking loved it!

It's about an alchemist's assistant, name of Whitehead, who absconds from a civil war battlefield with three other lads. They don't leave brutality behind though, because (after slurping some wild mushroom soup) their quest for a mythical "alehouse" is interrupted when they accidentally summon, or are summoned by, a sadistic witchfinder hat-wearing demon of hell in the form of an Irishman named O'Neil (I had "Smiley" here before because the actor's name fits the character like a glove). He enslaves them and does something unspeakable to Whitehead in a tent and forces them to dig for treasure.

The craft on display here is awesome to behold. Early on Whitehead is deafened by a musket blast and we plunge into his tinnitus, the madness of war unfolding silently, just muffled thuds impinging on the ringing of our ears. The monochrome photography captures the flash of those heavy, one-shot pistols, globules of blood on a blade of grass, and a caterpillar against the sun with equal felicity and ferocity. This film is actually unthinkable in colour. The music by Jim Williams ranges from ominous scene-punctuating military drumbeats to silly-sounding period instruments (hautboys?) to a comic yet somehow plangent ballad about a boy called Baloo to, increasingly, doom-laden ambient synths and strings.

In its chaos and its comedy it's reminiscent of the English field-based buffoonery of Withnail and I. Some of the absurdities reminded me of Beckett too, as did the Pozzo/Lucky-like master-slave relationship between O'Neil and Whitehead. Surrealistic tableaux vivants that creased me the fuck up, random todger-shots, a climactic epileptic freakout of schizoid intercutting that bisected the hemispheres of my brain with a rusty halberd, and an all-timer al fresco shitting scene are a few more things I loved about this film.

"I think I have worked out what god is punishing us for: everything."

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