If someone had asked me several months ago whether I'd seen "Winstanley", I'd have probably answered "Who? I've never even met the guy!" Now I know better. This cinematic gem is a recent discovery for me. In fact, the BFI's recent Blu-ray releases of British filmic treasures have opened up these seldom shown films to a whole new audience. If you want to watch something more than your average formulaic Hollywood fare, then you've come to the right place.
This is the story of a mid-17th century band of peasant farmers, inspired by Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard, to establish a self-sufficient commune on a piece of common land known as St. George's Hill, Surrey. It is a story of hope and promise, but also of brutal resistance to new ideas and the powerful interest in maintaining the status quo. It is a moving and powerful movie, the likes of which you are unlikely to see again anytime soon. This newly restored, high definition version, with its stark black and white cinematography looks just fantastic, the quality of which belies its humble origins. Attention to detail, from clothing and uniforms to farming implements and even extending to the use of rare breeds of farm animals is astonishing. It is even more amazing for a production budget, which in today terms would proably just about pay for a few day's catering on any big blockbuster set!
I would maintain that the story of the making of this film [on a laughably tiny shoestring budget] is just as fascinating as the feature itself. Therefore, the inclusion of Eric Mival's 1976 contemporary 50 minute "making of" documentary on the Blu-ray disc is a real boon. It title "It Happened Here Again" playfully invokes the independent, non-commercial spirit of Kevin Brownlow's and Andrew Mollo's earlier cinematic collaboration in recounting a fictional tale of a Nazi occupation of Britain in "It Happened Here". There is also a 40 min new interview with Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, with their old collaborator from the BFI Production Board, Mr. Mamoun Hassan included as a worthy supplement. The fully illustrated 36-page booklet with essays and reviews on the production rounds off another superb BFI Blu-ray package.
Finally, for those who may still have not got enough of "Winstanley" you might like to find out even more in Kevin Brownlow's recent book account [April 2009] of the film's making ["Winstanley, Warts and All" , a UKA Press Book ISBN 9781905796229]. Whatever you plump for, film or book, or at best both, you will not be disappointed!