‘A Field in England’: Memory and Forgetting
Humanities in Public’s WAR strand continued last week with a film screening and discussion of Ben Wheatley’s ‘A Field in England’.
When history is misremembered, we lose that narrative. We lose the stories of the individual people enthralled in the history of their time. And we lose a sense of what it meant to be human then, and what that means for our experience now.
The civil wars of the 1600s have been misremembered, forgotten, or ignored in the modern day even though they remain the bloodiest set of battles ever seen on the British Isles. They were a huge set of conflicts that dominated the century, between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. A massive 3% of the civilian population lost their lives. However, in the modern day, we lack an understanding and a knowledge of what happened in our own British fields 400 years ago.
MMU’s Richard Thomas Gough communicated many unheard truths to his audience on Wednesday, causing them to question the nature of historical narrative. His argument was that our perception and reasons for remembering history change as time progresses: “Our understanding of events changes according to context so therefore the things that seem important change throughout history. For example the Victorians would have remembered the civil wars for different reasons than we do”.
However, the wars remain a mystery to a modern day audience. Dr Andrew Moore, Reader in Cinema History at MMU, reflected: “The civil war seems to be absent in cinematic history. In popular culture, it just doesn’t seem to be recognised”.
Ben Wheatley’s ‘A Field in England’ (2013) offers a rare modern commentary on these events. Wheatley moves the events into modern significance, by taking them outside of the battleground and dramatizing the strife, trouble and conflict in the minds of five men in one field in England. A fluid, moving, and unsettling film, it moves between humour, history, and magic-mushroom induced highs. ‘A Field in England’ never stays in one place for long, despite being set for its majority in the one field.
Wheatley personalises the individual stories, narratives and experiences that we miss in history books. However, he does this in a way that causes the audience to doubt what they see and hear, emphasising the subjective nature of personal experience, and suggesting we can never fully understand history. Filming in black and white, Wheatley satirises the political battles of the roundheads and the cavaliers, showing that the experiences of men like Whitehead and O’Neill at the time would never have been as simple.
Dr Jerome de Groot, senior lecturer in English and History at the University of Manchester commented on the film: “A Field in England is an experimental historical film which ignores convention, ignores linearity, ignores genre. It is not clear who the characters are fighting for or why”.
By unsettling his audience, his genre, and history itself, Wheatley captures the unique and contradictory misremembering of the English Civil Wars, in a film that stunningly depicts “the lunacy of war”. The event on Wednesday was a reminder that the individual within history should never be forgotten.
The film screening and discussion on Wednesday 14th October was the second event in Humanities in Public’sWAR strand. The festival continues on the Wednesday 28th of October with The Sun King and Holy War. Humanities in Public is a festival of events surrounding the research done within the Humanities, Languages and Social Science faculty at Manchester Metropolitan University. Many events are FREE and all events are open to everyone. Find out more and book your place here: http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hip/
All quotes taken by Jacqueline Grima who reviewed the event for Humanity Hallows. Read Jacqueline’s review here: http://www.humanityhallows.co.uk/mmu-screens-ben-wheatleys-a-field-in-england/
This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.