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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Achievement
Brownlow and Mollo's film 'Winstanley' is a faithful recreation of a forgotten episode in English history. A few months after the execution of Chalres I, after seven years of bloody Civil War, England was in a state of upheaval: a fecund ground for new ideas, new attitudes and new actions.
Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers were pioneers of 'direct action', claiming...
Published on 15 Jan 2002 by Barry Marshall

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bizarely magnificent.
I rented this dvd by error, but glad I did. It is a mix of rank amateur cock up blended with some of the most wonderful black and white shots I have ever seen. There is one instance where a woman is holding a child in a makeshift 'Diggers' house, the shade and depth of passion in the childs face, emphasised by the use of monochrome, paints a very vivid picture of the pain...
Published on 26 Sep 2009 by S.R.J


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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Achievement, 15 Jan 2002
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This review is from: Winstanley [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Brownlow and Mollo's film 'Winstanley' is a faithful recreation of a forgotten episode in English history. A few months after the execution of Chalres I, after seven years of bloody Civil War, England was in a state of upheaval: a fecund ground for new ideas, new attitudes and new actions.
Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers were pioneers of 'direct action', claiming back common lands for the poor and dispossessed. The actions of the Diggers attracted the hostility of wealthy local lords, and their commune was many times raided.
This film conveys the hardships through which the Digger went. Miles Halliwell's portrayl of Winstanley is sympathetic; he almost IS Gerrard himself. I also enjoyed the scenes with the Ranters (seventeenth century hippie-types), which marvellously conveyed the mad anarchy of their beliefs, and also captured the bewilderment of Diggers themselves. Real-life activist Sid Rawle played his part with aplomb.
The film's sympathies lie clearly with the Diggers, but the directors do not flinch from showing us the adversity under which the Diggers laboured. Much of this is revealled through the words of their opponents, particularly the nasty Parson Platt, whose wife was entranced by the power of Winstanley's books. Yet not only people made life difficult for the Diggers. A harsh Nature is starkly captured in monochrome, though monochrome also captures the light admirably, which gives us a glimpse of hope, of redemption. Indeed the black and white cinematography--a result partly of aesthetic, partly financial reasons--gives the film a tangible historical edge. The dialogue is likewise authentic, much of Halliwell's narration derived verbatim from Winstanley's writings.
As the documentary at the end of the film shows, it was made on a shoestring, independent of big studios, and acted by amateurs. Its achievements are thus all the more admirable.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a faithful step back in time, 23 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Winstanley [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Black and white gives a real historical feel to this heart-rendering story. The Diggers were idealists who rightly saw land as a crucial issue during the English Civil war. Sid Rawle - seventies squatter - plays the leader of the Ranters who disrupt the Diggers peaceful mission, Winstanley himself is played by Miles Halliwell, excellent casting in both cases. Though the film was made on a shoestring budget it's a must for anyone fascinated by the history of ideas or who wishes people today treated the earth as 'a common treasury for all'.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all happening here!, 23 Aug 2009
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!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bizarely magnificent., 26 Sep 2009
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S.R.J "ssocialdrummer" (Huddersfield) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Winstanley [DVD] [1975] (DVD)
I rented this dvd by error, but glad I did. It is a mix of rank amateur cock up blended with some of the most wonderful black and white shots I have ever seen. There is one instance where a woman is holding a child in a makeshift 'Diggers' house, the shade and depth of passion in the childs face, emphasised by the use of monochrome, paints a very vivid picture of the pain being experienced by the wider Digger community. It tells a story not often remembered or even known about by most. Yes there are times when the acting is as wooden as the pikes used by the troops in the opening sequence, but this film is a product of its time. A valiant amateur effort that at times shines as brightly as any masterpiece of arthouse cinema. As an analyis of a political movement it doesn't work for me, but as a portrait in microcosm of the trials and tribulations of a Digger community it is wonderful.Well worth your time if approached with an open mind.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars revolutionary cinema, 5 Oct 2009
By 
HJ (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Winstanley [DVD] [1975] (DVD)
A beautiful understated evocation of a Leveller commune in post civil war C17th England, seen no doubt through the eyes of filmmakers influenced by post 1968 utopian ideals - the film is historically intriguing in terms of the early 1970s as well as the C17th! I was expecting Winstanley to be historically & politically interesting but I wasn't expecting it to be so visionary & poetic. The representation of the English landscape is quite stunning. At first I wasn't sure about the posh spoken mild mannered non-actor playing Winstanley, but now I think he was the only person who could possibly play the role - he lives it. This might be cinema of the highest order, comparable with Bresson or Rossellini. It's hard to believe the largely "amateur" circumstances in which the film was laboriously made with such great difficulty. That background to the making of the film is explored in detail in the interviews & extras & booklet. There is fully-fledged "making of" documentary, filmed at the time. I liked the fact that the Ranters were played by a real life anarchist group who say in an interview they have their own experimental commune set up on land given to them by John Lennon! An all-round exemplary DVD release from the BFI.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Olde England, timeless ideas, 25 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Winstanley [DVD] [1975] (DVD)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Adam Delved and Eve Span ...., 2 Oct 2009
By 
This review is from: Winstanley [DVD] [1975] (DVD)
Courtesy of the BFI, here's a film about a form of Christian communism in puritan England. Not the first choice for a featurefilm, you might think.
Think again. It's superb.

Never thought I'd enjoy it, but it's compelling from start to finish, with some magnificent black-and-white photography (why is it that the colours are always so much better in monochrome ???!!!) and an air of realism about the whole thing that knocks spots of many far more expensive historical dramas.

Even the atrocious weather is magnificent - every raindrop and gust of wind a star!

The mainly amateur cast does a grand job with their oddball characters, (they don't say much, but they look and feel every hardship) and you can't help but be moved by this simple and ultimately rather sad tale.

It's a film that will certainly stand up to many viewings, and deserves a permanent place in the catalogue of excellent British pictures.

More like this would be a good thing.
Thanks to the BFI for rescuing it from oblivion.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Christian Communism And Other Big Ideas, 16 July 2009
By 
Brady Orme (Edgbaston, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Film portrayals of dissidents have always been big indie business - Ignored by the big film studios, these individuals are cast in their own Motion Pictures possibly as they represent the ideals of the DIY enthusiasts that craft them. None more so than during the '70s. Back in the days of the Red Army Faction and the Iron Curtain being solidly Marxist wasn't just a possibility in Art, it was almost mandatory. Even All-American icons like Jane Fonda were schmoozing with the North Vietnamese government.

Keith Brownlow and Andrew Mollo tackled the Zeitgeist head-on with this film - Brownlow had directed the earlier "It Happened Here" and was a Silent Film historian, and Mollo was an expert in historical military uniform - by filming a version of the life of Gerrard Winstanley, 17th-Century social reformer and writer. Based on the book "Comrade Jacob" by David Caute, Winstanley formed a quasi-anarcho group called The Diggers (or the "True Levellers", who were basically Christian Communists), who attempted to create a self-sufficient farming commune near Cobham in Surrey. The experiment was doomed to fail as local landowners sent thugs and ne'r-do-wells in to beat up the Diggers and destroy the colony, but as Social History goes, in a land of Right-By-Birth it must be noted and remembered. Brownlow and Mollo do a stirling job in re-creating this episode in Winstanley's life with almost no budget. The film looks superb, with even true Civil War armour being used by the actors (Borrowed from the Tower of London, natch). When you think about the money that was sunk into Ken Hughes's "Cromwell", for instance, to get the same effect you get the idea. Independence triumphs again.

Bravo and Kudos to the BFI for restoring and maintaining our rich history of film through thick-and-thin. Can you imagine a home-viewing world without the BFI to rescue us from DVD and Blu-Ray mediocrity? I shudder to think. Buy this, I recommend it beyond mention.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Christian Communism And Other Big Ideas, 16 July 2009
By 
Brady Orme (Edgbaston, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Winstanley [DVD] [1975] (DVD)
Film portrayals of dissidents have always been big indie business - Ignored by the big film studios, these individuals are cast in their own Motion Pictures possibly as they represent the ideals of the DIY enthusiasts that craft them. None more so than during the '70s. Back in the days of the Red Army Faction and the Iron Curtain being solidly Marxist wasn't just a possibility in Art, it was almost mandatory. Even All-American icons like Jane Fonda were schmoozing with the North Vietnamese government.

Keith Brownlow and Andrew Mollo tackled the Zeitgeist head-on with this film - Brownlow had directed the earlier "It Happened Here" and was a Silent Film historian, and Mollo was an expert in historical military uniform - by filming a version of the life of Gerrard Winstanley, 17th-Century social reformer and writer. Based on the book "Comrade Jacob" by David Caute, Winstanley formed a quasi-anarcho group called The Diggers (or the "True Levellers", who were basically Christian Communists), who attempted to create a self-sufficient farming commune near Cobham in Surrey. The experiment was doomed to fail as local landowners sent thugs and ne'r-do-wells in to beat up the Diggers and destroy the colony, but as Social History goes, in a land of Right-By-Birth it must be noted and remembered. Brownlow and Mollo do a stirling job in re-creating this episode in Winstanley's life with almost no budget. The film looks superb, with even true Civil War armour being used by the actors (Borrowed from the Tower of London, natch). When you think about the money that was sunk into Ken Hughes's "Cromwell", for instance, to get the same effect you get the idea. Independence triumphs again.

Bravo and Kudos to the BFI for restoring and maintaining our rich history of film through thick-and-thin. Can you imagine a home-viewing world without the BFI to rescue us from DVD and Blu-Ray mediocrity? I shudder to think. Buy this, I recommend it beyond mention.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 9 Dalmuir west, 8 Oct 2011
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Not mentioned in other reviews is the truly excellent 9 Dalmuir West, short film of 1962 by Kevin brownlow. Featured here as an extra. It covers the last weekend of glasgows trams. Beautifully shot in grainy black and white, this 13 min. film is evocative and a real gem. Unearthed by the release of Winstanley, and presented here in HD It is a most pleasant trip back five decades to when all was different. Well worth the price on its own. An interesting thing to watch out for also, under the extras,is where they show before/after shots showing the results of the restoration. You will see one scene of some trees with just to the left of them overhead power lines! not nit picking, it just made me laugh, bearing in mind when Winstanley is set. Proves I've got too much time on my hands I suppose!
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Winstanley [DVD] [1975] [US Import]
Winstanley [DVD] [1975] [US Import] by Kevin Brownlow (DVD - 2000)
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