“It does not surprise me that the Devil is an Irishman, though I thought perhaps a little taller.”
A hallucinatory experience set during the English Civil War, realism waxes and wanes throughout A Field in England, its occult themes obtusely depicted through contemporaneous folklore imagery like mushroom circles whilst eschewing expository explanation. Throughout much of his directorial career, Ben Wheatley has surrounded himself with same creative cadre from film to film, including writer Amy Jump and cinematographer Laurie Rose. Shooting in black and white (which was experiencing a revival in the early 2010s) allows the audience to take in the texture of costumes and landscapes without the garish overload of colourful uniforms that would detract from the actors. It also no doubt helped a tight shooting schedule on a frugal budget of under £350,000. A Field in England is interspersed with tableaux vivants, awkwardly staged by the characters as a visual language pre-dating the dawn of cinema, a medium that would make sense to the characters if not the audience. Meanwhile disjointed depictions wrong-foot the viewer like diagetic singing around a campfire, accompanied by a lute from nowhere. The overall result is ethereal filmmaking, physically constrained to a single field yet broader in imaginative scope.
A theatrical whodunit set in London’s West End in the 1950s with a delightful ensemble cast, See How They Run is a comedy drama that draws you along for an entertaining ride rather that setting up a particularly compelling mystery for the viewer to solve as an active participant. Gleefully self-referential with its setting during the initial run of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and machinations to adapt the play into a movie, it provides light satire of both the theatre and film industries. The ending is structurally foreshadowed without revealling the killer, but having the culprit ultimately reveal themselves unprompted is rarely satisfying. The journey is enjoyable, however, largely due to Mark Chappell’s deftly paced and witty script. Saoirse Ronan stands out as the enthusiastic but inexperienced constable, jumping to conclusions each time a suspect emerges. The cinematography juxtaposes the artificial opulence of the theatre with drab reality of the streets outside, Jamie Ramsey also being responsible for Living‘s recent depiction of period London. Brief split screen cuts are frequently deployed — used stylistically rather than for any narrative purpose — and the sudden changes to the aspect ratio can be jarring, feeling somewhat cartoonish. It is unlikely to be remembered beyond the end of the year, but See How They Run is a droll diversion despite its weaknesses as a whodunit.