www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
A still from the film, Winstanley.

A still from the film, Winstanley.


HOT’s Zelly Restorick has been speaking to Andrew Mollo, one of the directors – the other being Kevin Brownlow – of the film, Winstanley which is showing tonight (26 October) at the Electric Cinema in the High Street as part of the 5th Black Huts Festival. She has also read Kevin Brownlow’s book of the film, Winstanley, Warts and All and of course watched the film itself. Here she records her encounter – as if via time travel – with Gerrard Winstanley, a peaceful, caring and thoughtful gentle-man, who wanted to live on the Common Land of England – and formed a commune about 300 years ago.

“You poor take courage, you rich take care,
This Earth was made a Common Treasury for everyone to share.
All things in common, all people one.”
Leon Rosselton, The Diggers’ Song

Miles Halliwell in the title role. BFI film, Winstanley

Miles Halliwell in the title role. BFI film, Winstanley

Winstanley took nearly a decade to produce. Co-directors, Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo were originally drawn to Gerard Winstanley’s story by David Caute’s book, Comrade Jacob.

As they learned more about the man of vision, his fellow Diggers, The Ranters, the gentry, the land, the military, the Civil War, 17th century England, communal life in the wild outdoors and those who opposed this communal lifestyle, they were determined to produce a film which meticulously reproduced this period of life, as absolutely authentically as possible, despite the distance of around 370 years. They wanted to create a sincere, heartfelt, non-judgemental version of this period of history, based on available historical records, where no individual is painted as representing The Good or The Bad.

Visionary. Idealist. Social reformer. Writer. English Protestant. Religious reformer. Political philosopher. Activist. Labels I’ve come across when researching Winstanley. Certainly an exceptional man. Thinking. Caring. Someone with his own mind.

In the British Film Institute booklet accompanying the film, David Gardiner writes that Winstanley “argued that the ordinary people of Britain had been enslaved ever since the Norman invasion by the control of the land, that 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.”

A thoroughly contemporary reference, considering our recent (somewhat bizarre? ironic?) celebrations of this land’s long distant conquering. Although this is the issue – and I ponder it myself to this day: who was the first person to come along and say: “Not OUR land. Not YOUR land. MINE.”, as they simultaneously erected a fence or a wall? It intrigues me. (Same as the concept of me being a ‘subject’ – to someone I have never met who hasn’t got a clue I exist – right from the second I emerged from the womb.)

Around the campfire at George Hill.

Around the campfire at George Hill.

Winstanley explored the idea of communal sharing. Mi casa. Su casa. My crumb of dry crust is your crumb, etc. He had a vision of a gentler, more open and sharing way of life – and with his back pretty much to the wall at the time, he had other more aggressive or passive options he could have chosen.

The Diggers, as they became known, took over a piece of Common Land in Surrey, St George’s Hill much to the dismay and rage of local villagers, gentry, landowners and army. “The Diggers called it ‘George Hill’, writes Marina Lewycka, who worked on the film alongside Brownlow and Mollo, “refusing to acknowledge what they saw as the Papish idolatry of sainthood”. Andrew Mollo confirmed that the current 21st century occupants/residents of this piece of land are of the gated community and expensive lifestyle variety.

In case you’re going to see the film, I won’t tell you what happens.

Gerrard Winstanley (Artist unknown)

(Artist unknown)

As the Diggers explored communal life in Surrey, simultaneously around England, other Digger communes had grown and evolved. Whatever the outcome of each community, the vision survives.

Now there are many communes around the world, where the idea of living off the land and community life has been – and is at this moment being experienced and explored by human beings just like Winstanley and his compadres. I myself regularly read the noticeboards of Diggers and Dreamers – and wonder and dream about how it would be to live a communal life.

“Social visions do not die with their creators,” writes David Gardiner, “they are merely set down like burdens carried a certain distance along the roadway, to be taken up by other fresh travellers and carried a little further on another day.”


Linocut © Clifford Harper

“And here I end, having put my arm as far as my strength will go to advance Righteousness; I have Writ, I have Acted, I have Peace: now I must wait to see the Spirit do his work in the hearts of others, and whether England shall be the first Land, or some other, wherein Truth shall sit down in triumph.”
Andrew Mollo’s favourite quote from Winstanley.

TONIGHT! Wednesday 26 Oct, The Electric Palace Cinema, 8pm. Doors open at 7.30pm, including Q&A with Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo. 



Posted 12:42 Wednesday, Oct 26, 2016 In: Film

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

Leave a comment

Also in: Film

  • Join our mailing list

  • HOT Social