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A Great Achievement
on 15 January 2002
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.