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|Index||11 reviews in total|
"Winstanley", directed by Andrew Mollo and Kevin Brownlow, is a true
masterpiece of British Independent Cinema. The talent of these two film
makers in unquestionable. Their vision of 17th Century England has never
been bettered. Andrew Mollo's attention to period detail is unsurpassed
resulting in costumes and design that are simply faultless. The
cinematography is breathtaking and Kevin Brownlow's editing is
Miles Haliwell plays the lead part of Gerrard Winstanley and he gives a moving and insightful performance. This is a must see film the like of which we may never see again. I am sure it taught Kubrick a lesson or two about filming period dramas.
A great piece of independent filmmaking!Intelligent,well directed and acted.These two filmmakers had a ton of talent .Too bad they only made two films,but luckily they are both classics.This film is very much like an early Kubrick film i.e. 'The Killing'.The locations and the fact that the were lensed on a monochrome made me feel the landscapes, situations and the plight of the people.A must see for any film lover!!!
I first watched this film in an Early Modern European history course and it blew me away. As a film buff it's interesting. It's a lot like a silent film (i.e. Griffith) with all the narrative frames in between each scene. As a socialist I find this film invaluable as a gateway to Winstanley's writings. He was truly a man ahead of his time.
Wonderful film. Cinematogaphy is brilliant. Story is one long overdue
in telling (few people knew of the diggers prior to this film, outside
of a small alternative community). Memorable scenes, such as the
crossroads confrontation between the Puritan parson and Winstanley. The
battle scenes at the start are artfully, sparingly, and convincingly
Winstanley himself may come off as a bit saintly, but he's nonetheless compelling, and a good choice for the role (he was a schoolteacher by trade and amateur actor). The attention to historical detail borders on the fanatical, and is well worth watching. And much of the dialogue is drawn from actual writings of Winstanley himself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As cinema Winstanley is more interesting than entertaining. The movie was
made in conscious imitation of Eisenstein, easy to dismiss for anyone
on MTV. But Brownlow is a careful and capable student of the classic
film, and if you are comfortable with the originals, you will feel right
The real story is also easy to overlook. Superficially it is about the poor persecuted diggers -- portrayed as post-apocalypse hobbits, their apocalypse having been the enclosure of the commons and the English Civil War.
But the dramatic center of the story, and hence of the movie, is not so much Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers as it is Thomas Fairfax and the New Model Army. Fairfax is a successful revolutionary general, and like every successful revolutionary leader in history he must confront the dilemma of how much revolution is too much.
On this conflict within Fairfax's conscience is based the ongoing dance between him and Winstanley, and the unfolding of the story. It is not a simple 'us versus them,' and both men know it. Both are revolutionaries, yet both see value in some parts of the old order. The difference is that Fairfax has already overturned the parts of the old order that he disliked, while Winstanley still aspires to further revolution -- or perhaps counter-revolution, since like many radicals he idealizes a lost golden age of pastoral simplicity. Winstanley has no power to succeed on his own, so his best hope is to win over Fairfax, both by argument and by a demonstration that his theories can work in practice. Fairfax is at first willing to give him this chance.
Fairfax, having fought successfully and won power, is becoming pragmatic. Winstanley, being poor and powerless, can afford to remain idealistic. And this increasing divergence is what makes Winstanley the movie an interesting story, rather than merely a film class exercise. It does not make it a great movie, or even a very good one, but it does make it worth watching. 6/10.
*** SLIGHT SPOILER ***
Part of the reason to watch this movie is to savor the period props. The arms and armor are mostly the real deal, borrowed from the Tower of London. The buildings and furniture are mostly 17th century, too. Even the livestock are ancient breeds, preserved by hobbyist farmers. But then there is the Diggers' clothing: the cloth looks machine woven, rather than homespun. Not a big deal, I know, but it is inconsistent with the rest of the very careful production.
The DVD also includes a "making of" documentary, which is great fun. Winstanley was a no-budget labor of love for all involved, and Brownlow describes some clever tricks for working with non-professional actors. A must-see for film students.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I rented this DVD for one reason--it was directed by Kevin Brownlow. I
love what Brownlow has done--making some brilliant films chronicling
the early giants in silent cinema. His films on Harold Lloyd, Buster
Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith are simply
brilliant--because of their VERY extensive research, watchability and
analysis of their craft. He also was responsible for the great
mini-series "Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood"--a documentary that
was about silents and early talking films. For this body of work,
Brownlow received an honorary Oscar in 2011--and I was excited to see
In the case of "Winstanley", however, Brownlow directed a film that has nothing whatsoever to do with silent movies. It was a very independently produced tiny film. Because of the very limited budget and resources, the film took eight years to complete, used all non-professional actors and was filmed semi-documentary style in black & white! It certainly is NOT the sort of film that the average person would ever watch, that's for sure!
The story is about a man named Gerrard Winstanley who lived during the 17th century in England. The film begins at the end of the English Civil War. Following this war, Winstanley published pamphlets that called for a Christian form of Communism--based on the way the early church lived in the book of Acts. It's all very idealistic, egalitarian and peaceful--so therefore those not in his group of followers hated them and saw them as a threat to civil order! So, they beat the crap out of the group, scattered them off public lands on which they were squatting and farming crops--and the idea eventually died. This is rather ironic, considering that technically speaking, Winstanley and his followers were being VERY good Christians--following the exact model created by the Apostles! It's also not very surprising that the film would be made, as communes and the like were very much in vogue when the project began in 1968.
This film is obviously a very sincere and amazing effort when you think about how it was made. Is it, then, any good? Well, yes and no. I loved how according to an article I read, Brownlow was VERY careful to only include animals in the film that actually existed during the mid-1600s. Newer hybrids and foreign animals found now in the UK were not used! Additionally, the outfits everyone wears are scruffy and many are shoeless--much like peasants would have been dressed at the time. So, historically speaking, I was VERY impressed with the attention to detail. However, I must admit that the film, at times, seemed a bit pathetic. I doubt if the Diggers (as Winstanley's group was nicknamed) consisted of so few people. I think this was done simply because the film had a shoestring budget. It's REALLY obvious, however, when they showed a truly pathetic 'battle' at the beginning of the film. This was supposed to be from the Civil War, but consisted of jerky camera angles, jiggling camera and weird editing to make you think there was a battle....but I honestly think there were only about 8-12 people in this HUGE battle of epic proportions!! It almost reminded me of a skit from "Monty Python"--but in this case it wasn't supposed to be funny. Because of such obvious problems due to a non-existent budget, it would REALLY be great if a big-budgeted version of Winstanley's life and legacy could be made....but I won't hold my breath waiting! Overall, the film is a noble effort but without any sort of momentum. The film consists of repeated efforts of the locals to get rid of the commune but it's all done without much energy or drama. This 'mini climax' actually happened repeatedly and kept the film from having a lot of impact, as I found myself getting a bit bored by the film's style and pace. Interesting and noble, perhaps, but not particularly enjoyable.
By the way, the DVD for this film included a special feature made in 1976 called "It Happened Here Again" and it's a making of film about "Winstanley". It was pretty interesting and tells how the film used great economy to make a 140 minute-long movie that cost about as much, according to this short film, as the opening credits of a James Bond film!! Well worth seeing. By the way, the title of the short was a takeoff on the title of Brownlow's first film "It Happened Here"--though it had absolutely nothing to do with "Winstanley".
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.
Today the term "indie film" is a bloated cliché, misapplied to any movie with a budget under $50 million and not too much CGI, regardless of how conventional and hackneyed the film is. To see really independent cinema you have to go back to the 60s and 70s, when revolutions in the technology allowed eccentrics and visionaries, working totally outside the industry and with virtually no money, to make truly unique movies. Folks like Warhol and Waters and Anger in the US, Herzog in Germany, and the team of Brownlow and Mollo in the UK. All very different from one another (and everyone else), which is part of what makes them authentic independents. Starting when they were just 18, Brownlow and Mollo made two extraordinary history-based films. First they spent eight years (and something like 20,000 pounds, minuscule even in 1970s currency) making "It Happened Here," a what-if fantasy about England occupied by the Nazis during World War II that looks so realistic you could be fooled it's a documentary if you're history-challenged. Then, with an equally tiny budget and fierce attention to detail, they made the true-to-history "Winstanley," about the proto-democracy (and proto-Quaker, and proto-hippie) revolt of the Diggers, Levellers and Ranters in 17th-century England. Again it looks so real it's like a documentary somehow shot in the 1640s, but it's also beautiful, poetic and philosophical in a kind of Herzogian way. They're both remarkable little films, unlike anything else, that should be remedial must-see's for anyone who likes or is involved in what's called indie film nowadays.
Here's the synopsis bit: in the political and social ferment following
the English Civil War a pamphlet called The New Law of Righteousness,
was published by Gerrard Winstanley advocating a form of Christian
Communism. He set up a self-sufficient commune of "Diggers" to claim
back common land for the poor and dispossessed. Which didn't please the
loutish locals, or the rich landlords, and especially not pious parson
Platt. Cue yobbish raids on the peace-abiding commune; the humble
diggers frequently beaten up, their simple settlement smashed, their
small straw-bale houses burnt down.
The film was made over a period of 6/7 years on a shoe-string with mostly amateur actors picked more on authentic look (i.e bad teeth) than credible acting ability. I've noticed that the best way to direct a non- professional cast seems to be to not give them much dialogue to say or complicated feelings to emote; just get them accentuating how they normally look and ordinarily are which in this case meant lots of dirty plaintive faces suffering misery-inducing hardship, while wearing dopey hobbit hats.
Winstanley is played by Mike Halliwell a teacher who, when sermonising to his illiterate peasant flock, sounded like he was tutoring posh kids at a public school; he's earnest enough (brow is set firmly to furrowed) but not entirely convincing; too nice and polite, too 20th century well-mannered to cut it as a rough hewn 17th century charismatic visionary.
Another 20th century incursion altho this one seemed deliberate was the involvement of real life "diggers": Sid Rawle's bunch of anarchic 70′s squatters recast as 17th century hippy Ranters; they monkey mad- eyed and butt-naked around the camp. Winstanley's sober (True) Levellers seemed by comparison, tame not free-spirited, but merely meekly subservient passively yoking themselves to yet another compliant form of pious Bible puritanism.
Considering this film was more or less made for nothing it looks great; the black and white cinematography seems to crisply authenticate all the mud and misery; rain dripped off bare branches, dripping onto blank faces, squalling over sodden pixie hovels (why did they build their dwellings so small i wonder); the sooty smoke and crackle of the campfire so tangible i was warming my hands on the laptop screen.
This film along with Bill Douglas's Comrades would agitate any aspiring lefty activists. I felt leftily activated enough to check out Winstanley, Sid Rawle, The Ranters, The Levellers, etc on Google. I didn't go as far as Christian Communism though. That looked a bit too back breakingly dull for me.
Gerrard Winstanley (1609 1676) was an English Protestant religious
reformer and political activist during the period after the English
Civil Wat under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He was one of the
leaders of a movement which called itself the True Levellers, was known
by others as the Diggers, and could be characterised as a form of
This little-known and well-intentioned film about the radical movement - directed and co-written by Kevin Brownlow - will not be to all tastes. Visually, it reminds one of the best of early cinema such as that of Eisenstein: 4:3 ratio, black and white, distant shots of figures, close up shots of faces, a variety of framed shots. And it is a vivid and authentic reaction of the period. But much of the acting is very amateurish and there is a lack of both characterisation and narrative.
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