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WINSTANLEY: Warts and All

Kevin Brownlow



"Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it." -- Oliver Cromwell.


In the words of director, Kevin Brownlow:

My first book was How It Happened Here, about the making of my first film. As a film historian, I thought I should keep a careful record of the making of Winstanley as well. It was written immediately after the events had occurred, when my memory was vivid. The manuscript sat on the shelf for thirty-four years, but reading it back recently I found some of the verbatim dialogue, especially the excuses from the laboratories for ruining our precious film, very amusing - which I certainly didn’t at the time. David Gardiner of UKA Press suggested putting it into print at last, since they had already reprinted How It Happened Here. UKA Press have been very generous with photographs, and combined with the DVD, just released by Movie Mail, the book makes a fascinating example of how-not-to-do-it for any budding film-maker.


“Winstanley: Warts and All” is the story of the making of the film “Winstanley”, written by director Kevin Brownlow and now published for the first time, telling what went wrong (everything), and how the film was kept from audiences all over the world, but was declared a work of genius in France. … … In the words of director, Kevin Brownlow: “My first book was How It Happened Here, about the making of my first film. As a film historian, I thought I should keep a careful record of the making of Winstanley as well. It was written immediately after the events had occurred, when my memory was vivid. The manuscript sat on the shelf for 34 years, but reading it back recently I found some of the verbatim dialogue, especially the excuses from the laboratories for ruining our precious film, very amusing – which I certainly didn’t at the time. UKA Press suggested putting it into print at last, since they had already reprinted How It Happened Here. They have been very generous with photographs, and combined with the DVD, just released, the book makes a fascinating example of how-not-to-do-it for any budding film-maker.” … ... “The Kevin Brownlow / Andrew Mollo duo are among the most challenging and idiosyncratic of independent filmmakers. They have made only two films, It Happened Here (1966), and Winstanley. Although both made friends and enemies in equal measure, they are at last enjoying wider recognition as outstanding and important films. … Brownlow, a first rank film historian, and Mollo, historical consultant on such iconic masterpieces as Dr Zhivago, used amateur actors to create both films on shoestring budgets, working at weekends and driven by a fanaticism for historical accuracy and a fascination with the subject matter, which is the playing-out of big social visions (fascism, socialism) in the lives of ordinary people. … Filmed in black-and-white, Winstanley is intensely beautiful visually, comparable to the work of Eisenstein, Dreyer, or Abel Gance. Indeed the meticulous accuracy of the sets and costumes alone would justify its inclusion in any film lover’s collection. But over and above this it tells the heart-rending story of the visionary Winstanley’s beautiful dream overturned by the might of the entrenched aristocracy and the common people’s fear of change.” -- David Gardiner, April 2009 … … “This is a unique British film, and it is a great loss to British cinema that Brownlow and Mollo never made another.” -- Movie Mail, distributors of the British Film Institute DVD of “Winstanley”


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'Since the days of Plato and Socrates and long before people have looked at the way their societies worked and dreamed of fundamental changes. And of course it didn't always stop at theory. Most of the present-day nations of the West and many of those of the Third World and the East have emerged from social revolutions and civil wars: America, Russia, China, France, Viet Nam, South Africa and Ireland to name but a few. It might surprise a lot of educated British people to be told that our nation too belongs on this list, but such is the case.


In the middle of the 17th Century we executed our king and fought a bloody civil war to determine what kind of a society our children were going to live in. Not only soldiers and gather-up armies battled against one another, ideas did too. It was an age of great and largely forgotten visionaries: men and women who believed that they could see a way forward to a new and better form of social organisation, some principle whereby we could share the wealth of the earth more equitably and live our lives in peace without hurting one another, some way to smash the "mind-forged manacles" that held all the different strata of society equally in bondage.


One of the foremost of these visionaries was Gerrard Winstanley. He argued that the ordinary people of Britain had been enslaved ever since the Norman invasion, by the control of the land, the most fundamental of all "means of production", by the Lords of Manors, and he suggested in the most peaceful possible terms, how the earth, our common Treasury, might be shared out again.


In April 1649 a band of about 40 Diggers, inspired by Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard began to dig uncultivated common land on Saint George's Hill in Cobham, Surrey, building simple houses in which to live, sharing all their goods and produce in common. As word spread, and the privileged woke up to the implications of this tiny token action, the authorities turned hostile. The commune was dispersed by government troops, Everard and Winstanley arrested, tried, and heavily fined. Each new attempt to get the community started was crushed, by violence, harassment and intimidation. Nevertheless, despite all government opposition to the experiment, the Cobham colony lasted until 1651. The Diggers inspired other colonies in other parts of England also, but ultimately none of them could stand up to the forces mobilized against them. Winstanley's dream was a wonderful, humanitarian vision of a gentler, more just and happy world; a dream that came again to other people in succeeding centuries, but for whose realization we are still waiting.' -- David Gardiner


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WINSTANLEY, The DVD, available from MovieMail.co.uk

Released by The British Film Institute.



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