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Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's minor classic a sort of pastoral Spartacus that develops into a chilly Mosquito Coast regards the 17th century reformist-activist leader Gerrard Winstanley, and it really puts the period in period drama. Made for tuppence, it memorably recreates a time and place too often the reserve of buttoned-up aristocrats. Here it is the domain of the common digger, eking the living on God's land. Problem is, General Lord Fairfax reckons the land belongs to him.
You just have to zip over to IMDb and click on each cast member to get a taste of what an achievement this film is. Other than Jerome Willis (Fairfax himself), you're hard-pushed to find another professional actor among the cast. So yes, some of the performances are amateurish by default. But others are remarkable: aside from Miles Halliwell's titular visionary (whose brow is the very definition of furrowed), David Bramley's Parson Platt in particular stands out as a model of eerie poise and stern implacability.
But it's the photography that really brings the film to life. In sharp monochrome, all the colour of rural England seems to breathe. The faces of the ex-soldiers, scarred like land masses, look like they're filmed in 3D. And then there is the constant mood of inventiveness, with the editor (Sarah Ellis, hacking the frame with Schoonmaker-esquire skill and savagery) unafraid to lurch from extreme close-up to echoing long shot, and the directors even shifting focus to a first-person perspective during one of the many attacks on the diggers' settlement.
With its timeless themes of the stricken many versus "the covetous few", Winstanley is as relevant now as ever (not least when one offscreen character compares Winstanley's celebrity prophet to a certain Muhammad). Its unique atmosphere, striking visuals and strong plotting elevate it to essential viewing.
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