Thursday, 12 September 2013
A Field in England — A film by Ben Wheatley
"A Field In England is a psychedelic trip into magic and madness from Ben Wheatley – award-winning director of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers"
Q: Where did the idea for the film come from?
I’ve had the idea for a long time. I was shooting documentary footage in the early 90’s and I’d read that Paul Verhoeven started his directing career by making films for the Dutch military. He’d get to shoot these huge battle scenes during troop manoeuvres so I started shooting living history re-enactments and eventually came across The Sealed Knot. They’re a re-enactment group centred around the English Civil War. I think it’s a very interesting and admirable thing – and I guess a very English thing - but it’s unique and keeps the history alive.
English people tend to be quite anti-history or at least not very adept at dealing with the past and these people have found a way to do that which isn’t musty and academic. Its fun!
I’ve always been interested in that time period and the idea that it was an attempt by the people to kill the King – or effectively kill God. It’s radical thought and lots of people were radicalised at that moment in history. It was also a time when “magic” became “science”, where paganism and Christianity where confused, so it felt like a rich kind of magical world where any possibility could happen.
Q: So how did this interest translate into the film A Field In England?
I shot a lot of footage of the Sealed Knot and even started writing a script based in that time period but never finished it – but the idea never went away. Laurie Rose, our cinematographer, had done a shoot at a historical village. We went down and took a look and it brought the whole idea back to life.
With my first film Down Terrace we built the whole film around the house location because that was something we knew we could get. The village was the catalyst to start the Civil War script but when Amy Jump and I started to write it we realised we’d done the woods in Kill List so decided to move the location.
I do a lot of travelling and lot of looking out of train windows at fields. We started thinking about how two groups would fight in a very small space – something like Alan Clarke’s Contact for example. Again – a pragmatic decision that would work with our budget.
Once we had the scenario we started researching the folklore and mythologies of the time and Amy wrote the script from that point.
Q: What’s the reason for the tableaus in the film?
The tableaus came out of looking at woodcuts that reflect that time period, obviously flat and two dimensional. It was a way to reference those but also a way of using a film language that wasn’t traditional. There’s nothing in the film that specifically dates it and no explanation of the world we’re in – so the tableaus help frame that.
Q: The field is a magical place. Time and space don’t have conventional meanings do they?
That’s part of the mushroom circle folk lore. Within it time moves at a different speed. The lore is that if you go into a circle it takes four men and a rope to pull you out and although you feel that weeks may have past – it could be minutes in real time.
Q: What happens in the tent?
Something appalling! It’s like Orwell’s Room 101 – Tent 101!
Reece Shearsmith surprised us all when he emerged from the tent doing what he did. We were all horrified - for real! Reece has a very deep understanding of horror cinema and that scene is a great example of how he’s able to change into these characters. I always found characters like Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen very very scary but there’s echo’s of Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera in there for example.
When we first watched the slomo shot back we realised that we were going to have to use it in one shot because to cut away spoiled it.
Q: You and DP Laurie Rose built lenses for the film?
I’d been intrigued by these cheap plastic lenses that were for sale on the internet. Because they’re so badly made they create a lot of artefacts, flares and misting that gives a really interesting – almost antique feel that really worked for the film.
We shot with the RED EPIC camera too so there’s a constant shifting of quality throughout the film which felt like it reflected the constant shifting of the characters perspective after they’ve taken the mushrooms.
We made other lenses from cheap children’s toys – gluing them together to see what would happen. There’s something about the “handmade” nature of the lenses that reflects the time period when obviously everything was hand made.
Q: Why shoot in black & white?
We started wanting to make a black and white film and in the most basic sense it fits the time period. It also shifted the emphasis to textures rather than colours which make the field and the grass for example work in a completely different way.
Q: Can you tell us about how the film was cast?
I’d worked with everyone apart from Reece Shearsmith, but I was a huge fan of his. We’d wanted Michael Smiley for O’Neil from very early on and he’d worked with Reece on John Landis’ Burke & Hare. He took Reece to see Down Terrace so we got to meet. He said he was interested in doing something so Amy wrote the part for him.
Ryan Pope I knew from Ideal – a UK TV series that I directed. It has amazing casting and we’ve used a lot of people from that show over the films. Ben Crompton & Emma Fryer from Kill List for example were on it.
Peter Ferdinando we’d met at Sundance where his film Tony was screening. It was such an amazing performance that we didn’t even realise the person we were talking too was the guy on screen!
Richard Glover was of course in Sightseers so Amy & I had spent a lot of time watching his performance during the editing and Julian Barratt – well we asked and he said yes, which was a really nice surprise.
Q: One of the common themes in your films is mysticism and folklore. Where does that come from?
I don’t really know where it comes from. It wasn’t in the script of Down Terrace but I guess the music reflected that to an extent and the idea of the family line. In Kill list it made sense because that film came from nightmares I’d had as a kid. Sightseers again had elements in it.
A Field In England is almost like an unofficial prequel to Kill List anyway. We started thinking of it in those terms. So the grass in the field and the straw masks of the cult in Kill List are linked together – and the unseen “master” character who’s controlling all the events behind the scenes in Field is a sort of mirror of The Client character in Kill List. I like the idea of continuity across the films but I think this is the end of that now.
Jim Williams - The Damp of Hell - A Field in England OST:
A FIELD IN ENGLAND: Directed by BEN WHEATLEY. Written by AMY JUMP. Starring: JULIAN BARRATT, PETER FERDINANDO, RICHARD GLOVER, RYAN POPE, REECE SHEARSMITH & MICHAEL SMILEY. Produced by CLAIRE JONES & ANDY STARKE. Executive Producer: ANNA HIGGS. Director of Photography: LAURIE ROSE. Production Designer: ANDY KELLY. Edited by AMY JUMP & BEN WHEATLEY. Sound Design by MARTIN PAVEY. Music Composed by JIM WILLIAMS. First Assistant Director: JAMES SHARPE. Sound Recordist: ROB ENTWISTLE. First Assistant Camera & Additional Photography: NICK GILLESPIE. Costume Designer: EMMA FRYER. Make Up and Hair Designer: CANDY ALDERSON. Script Supervisors: ANITA CHRISTY & CAROLE SALISBURY. Production Manager: PHILIY PAGE. Production Accountant: GARETH JONES. Locations Manager: JACQUES GROENEWALD.
Special thanks must go to Zoe Flower @ Emfoundation for the interview & Luke Insect @ Luke Insect Studio for the images. Without whom...