Sunday, January 5, 2020

Peterloo (2019)

Director Mike Leigh is one of the best English directors of all time. He has been nominated five times for writing and/or directing for Another Year (2010), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Vera Drake (2004), Topsy-Turvy (1999)  and Secret and Lies (1996).

Peterloo, made in 2019, marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. A crowd of 60,000 people from Manchester England and surrounding towns gathered in St. Peter's fields to demand reform and an extension of voting rights. The peaceful protest was broken up by government troops and as many as 15 were reported dead with up to 700 wounded. Many historians have credited this event with leading to the Great Reform Act being passed thirteen years later.

The movie follows a poor family, a famous radical speaker Henry Hunt, Prince Regent George IV, and the local authorities looking to suppress protest. The movie flips between the various groups as we come to see how the events at Peterloo could possibly have taken place, but the film is mostly seen from a working class perspective (as most of Leigh's films are).

Leigh could have made a more popular movie by having a film star as the protagonist and then following that star through the movie. We then could have identified with that character as we moved through the story. Leigh decided to give us glimpses of different groups, and see their points of view. He also decided not to use any stars that might sway us to a particular point of view.

Peterloo  looked at a world 200 years ago but it was also commenting on today's world. People are still asking for a greater share of the wealth. People are still working hard, but living in poverty. Peterloo is an important movie because points out how important it is for people to get involved and how important it is for everyone to have the right to peacefully express their point of view.