“Winstanley is the 1975 Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo film biography and tribute to Gerrard Winstanley, who was a religious reformer and political activist in the 17th century.
Gerrard Winstanley was one of the founders of an English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers, who occupied previously public common lands which had been privatised, living in what could be considered some of the first examples of or experiments in socialist communal living.
The community he helped to create was quickly suppressed but left a legacy of ideas which inspired later generations.”
“Winstanley is a curiosity which lingers in the mind, one which ploughed its own furrow and created its own very particular corner of British filmmaking.”
“In many ways Winstanley could be seen as a companion piece to Ben Wheatley’s also low-budget fictional historic fantasy film A Field in England (2013), possibly the more erudite, learned, historical brother to its rambunctious more recently released sibling.
There are a number of similarities to the films; both are set around a similar time period of the English Civil War, have similar costumes, are set in the rural landscape, shot in crisp black and white and show a flipside and/or the undercurrents of English history.”
“Accompanying the BFI DVD/Blu-ray release of Winstanley is the “making of ” documentary, It Happened Here Again in which there is a curious mixture of centuries and styles.
In the documentary the costumed cast are pictured in amongst contemporary families, the rickety cars and vans of the 1970s and folk who aesthetically could have tumbled from 1970s Open University broadcasts.
There is a sense of it capturing a very specific time and place in English history during the mid 1970s; possibly the last days of the utopian sixties dream and aesthetics before punk and the Thatcherite 1980s arrived and made much which immediately preceded them seem almost to belong to a separate parallel world: one far distant from our own.”
“The period during which Winstanley was made could also be seen as a link to the time when it and A Field in England were set as there are similarities to both points in history; periods of unrest and historical points of battle and change in society.”
“In the 17th century it was the battle between magic, religion, science, the old ruling order/economic models and the new; in the 1970s during Winstanley’s production Britain was wracked by internal unrest, economic strife and the battle which would lead to the turning of elements of society towards the right and the adoption or possibly ascendancy of a related new economic/political model.
That particular change also led to another battle, sometimes fought amongst the fields of England and its neighbours; the bitterly fought Miners Strike of 1984-1985 where the government of the day clashed with miners over pit closures.”
This was a defining conflict at the time between those who believed in more collectively-organised labour and a post-war progressive consensus (with regards to the state intervening in the welfare of the nation) and a political, economic and philosophical grouping which wished to move towards a more monetarist, consumer and individual-orientated society.”
“With regards to A Field in England, Ben Wheatley has talked about being interested in making a film about a period when Britain was in “free fall and chaos… a moment when anything could happen”, which could apply equally to Britain at either of the above times in the 17th or 20th centuries.”
“These were times when history could have gone various ways and which could be seen as the start of turning points in the world and society. Connecting back to the period in which Winstanley is set, the Miners Strike of 1984-1985 has been called the The English Civil War Part II by artist Jeremy Deller, who used the phrase as the title of a book released in 2002, which documented and reflected on the strike and a re-enactment of a defining conflict during it which has come to be known as ‘The Battle of Orgreave’.”
That re-enactment, also called The Battle of Orgreave, was initiated by Jeremy Deller and was a partial re-enactment of what has come to be thought of as one the turning point conflicts of the strike that originally took place on 18 June 1984 and involved violent clashes between striking miners and the police.
The events or “battle” took place at a British Steel Corporation coking plant in Orgreave, Yorkshire, which processed fuel made from coal, that the miners wished to stop the collection of supplies from and a large number of striking miners converged on this one point on that date.
The re-enactment featured both miners and policemen who had been involved in the strike alongside members of re-enactment societies and a documentary of the event filmed by Mike Figgis was televised by mainstream broadcaster Channel 4.”
“The English Civil War Part II book is a companion piece to the re-enactment and contains personal accounts by those who were involved in the strike and the re-enactment, alongside memorabilia from the strike including pamphlets, news clippings, photographs from personal scrapbooks, song texts, a CD containing interviews with former miners and some of their wives and also photographs of the re-enactment.
While being to a degree documentary or archival in nature, the book combines these elements to create a moving and evocative tribute to the conflict and those whose lives it affected.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 52 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page.