Another World Is Possible: The Bestselling Novelist Marina Lewycka Remembers the Blood, Sweat and Tears of Making a Film about the 17th-Century Revolutionary Gerrard Winstanley

By Lewycka, Marina | New Statesman (1996), July 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

Another World Is Possible: The Bestselling Novelist Marina Lewycka Remembers the Blood, Sweat and Tears of Making a Film about the 17th-Century Revolutionary Gerrard Winstanley


Lewycka, Marina, New Statesman (1996)


When the authorities expelled Gerrard Winstanley and his pitiful band of Diggers from the common at St George's Hill, near Cobham in Surrey, in 1650, they can hardly have imagined that some three hundred years later this impoverished radical dreamer and mystical proto-communist would be the subject of such intense historical interest, let alone the eponymous hero of a film.

Yet it is no coincidence that there should have been a renewed surge of interest in Winstanley and the Diggers in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when the spirit of revolution was out on the streets, and latter-day Diggers were occupying campuses and squatting houses and apartment blocks. I was a starry-eyed young PhD student in 1970, researching revolutionary thought in the 17th century. What drew me to Winstanley was not only his political radicalism, but that he seemed to have a "psychological" understanding of the biblical narrative, unusual at that time, as an allegory of the struggle between good and evil which took place in every human heart. When I read an item in the newspaper saying that a film was to be made by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo about Gerrard Winstanley, I had never seen Brownlow and Mollo's It Happened Here, but I knew of it by reputation. Naturally, I got in touch and offered my services.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In some ways, the making of the film Winstanley mirrored the endeavour of the original Diggers. It was an enterprise held together by a shared belief that commitment was more important than money, a lack of hierarchy that occasionally bordered on the anarchic, the spirit of voluntarism, good humour, camaraderie, stoicism in the face of setbacks, and a willingness to submit to the rigours of English dirt and English weather in pursuit of a higher purpose. Like Winstanley, we had our priorities straight. We knew that fame, fortune and ambition were not what it was about; what mattered was doing it properly.

Doing it properly, in this context, meant the painstaking attention to period detail for which Brownlow and Mollo have become known. Not only did we have the correct suits of armour, as worn by Cromwell's soldiers, on loan from the Tower of London, and the correct breeds of cattle, on loan from the Rare Breeds Society, but someone even managed to rustle up a newborn (well, almost) baby for the birth scene. My boyfriend at the time, Nick Rowling, who features in the camp scenes with gorgeously authentic unkempt blond curls, is also in the credits as a consultant advising about domestic interiors (he was an architectural historian). He advised the directors to keep conifers out of shot as much as possible (almost unknown south of Scotland at that time). I feature in the credits as script consultant--my job was to comb through it and weed out any words or phrases that would be inauthentic for the period, and occasionally I got to add a few of my own. But I was also in turn tea lady, film extra (a small walk-on part as a servant), wiper of tears and grazed knees (some of the eviction scenes got a bit rough) and general dogsbody. …

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