Four years after the release of the commercially and critically acclaimed Mr Turner, a dirty biopic of the radical painter JMW Turner, Mike Leigh returns with yet another very British film set in the early 19th century. The difference is that instead of investigating the life of a revolutionary figure, this time Leigh decided to portray a (equally revolutionary) historical event: the Peterloo Massacre.
The film is being marketed as “an epic portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre, where a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester turned into one of the bloodiest and most notorious episodes in British history. The Massacre saw British government forces charge into a crowd of over 60,000 that had gathered to demand political reform and protest against rising levels of poverty.” The Peterloo Massacre was a defining moment in British democracy which also played a significant role in the founding of The Guardian newspaper.
Judging by the trailer, an historical epic with a message of “people have the power” is on its way. The Amazon Studios and eOne production has convincing costumes and special effects, and a conventional period drama look. The cast includes Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake and Neil Bell, yet super stars are absent, suggesting perhaps that Leigh wants to emphasise the message of collective action ahead of big names.
Peterloo is in cinemas in November.