Winstanley (1975)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Mile Halliwell
Extras: “It Happened Here Again” Documentary

Almost ten years after completing their remarkable debut film — a masterpiece of independent filmmaking entitled ’It Happened Here’ — Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo teamed up once again to tackle another historical drama. While their first film told the story of a Nazi takeover of England, ’Winstanley’ focuses instead on a little known episode that occurred in 17th century England.

In 1649 Gerrard Winstanley’s (Miles Halliwell) growing frustration over the lack of real land reforms under Oliver Cromwell convinced him to start up a commune of his own to take advantage of his village’s common use areas. This non-violent movement soon came to be seen by the powers-that-be as a very real threat to the status quo and they decided to take whatever means necessary to drive the Diggers out. As a historically accurate portrayal of the first real socialist revolution in history, ’Winstanley’ stands out as a unique and important film.

’Winstanley’ is presented in its original full-frame, black and white, form and the overall image quality is average at best. While the sharpness, contrast, and even black level are all adequate, the film elements are marred by many nicks, scratches, and other blemishes that the DVD format makes all too clear. The case states that the video was remastered using the original 35mm film elements and the overall quality bears this out. Unfortunately, remastering doesn’t mean restoring so all of the physical imperfections of these master prints have been carried over for the DVD release.

The English Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is something of a mixed bag as well. Dialogue is clear but there is no dynamic range whatsoever and background hiss is readily apparent. In a few cases the sound even cuts out for a split second. A little restoration would have gone a long way toward fixing these problems. On the other hand, the film’s creators obviously put a lot of effort into mixing the sound for this film and the result is an audio track that features a fair number of added sound effects that actually enhance the story.

There is only one extra on the disc but it alone makes this DVD a worthwhile package. Shot during filming of the main feature, Eric Mival’s ’It Happened Here Again’ is a full-length documentary (50 mins.) that reveals all the hard work that went into making ’Winstanley’ possible. Almost a treatise on the art of independent filmmaking, this feature is a real gem and helps to make ’Winstanley’ much more understandable and enjoyable.

Not everyone will appreciate ’Winstanley’ as it is a very straightforward historical document that becomes flat-out boring in places. What ultimately redeems the film is the knowledge — conveyed through the included documentary — of how much effort Brownlow and Mollo put into making their project as historically accurate as possible with almost no budget. The audio and video could have benefited from a little restoration but are by no means atrocious. Fans of independent, guerrilla filmmaking or historical oddities should find Image’s DVD of ’Winstanley’ to be of some interest.