Winstanley (1975)

Winstanley (1975), produced and directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo.

This is a remarkable film experiment funded by the British Film Institute, who also provide the Blu-ray. It is a docudrama or reenactment of the mid-seventeenth century Digger movement. Much of the dialog is taken directly from Gerrard Winstanley's pamphlets.

After the English Civil War many hopeful people met the new boss and found him to be the same as the old boss. Utopian ideas were in the air and Winstanley conceived the notion of establishing modest communes on unused common land. His efforts were emulated elsewhere around the country but none of the new communities lasted more than a couple of years.

On the one hand they suffered violence from neighboring landowners and unfriendly courts. On the other they had to deal with depredations by the Ranters, who in this telling were psychotic religious hysterics sponging off others or simply stealing what they wanted from other poor people.

A committed Christian pacifist, Winstanley persevered as long as he could, but couldn't make it work. Starting a new life from scratch is hard work, as many have found since. Still the utopian communal dream reappears from time to time. Sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.

This was an era when everyone knew their Bible and all sides had theological justification for their positions.

A meticulous micro-budget recreation of the times, with real armor borrowed from museums, care in the clothes and stitching, and even the chickens and cows kept to the breeds available then. Only one or two professional actors in the cast.

Lovely, striking black-and-white photography of the people, their faces, the woods and countryside. The landscape looks both idyllic and bleak, and you can almost feel the cold wind on hungry people trying to live on the land.

Available as an all-region Blu-ray import from BFI in the UK. The package includes a booklet and a PAL DVD version of the film. The 4:3 aspect ratio is correct for this title.