Period pieces are my favorite films to watch. They are historically fascinating and often times illustrate how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Peterloo, directed by Oscar nominated director Mike Leigh, gives us a bird’s eye view to one of the bloodiest episodes in British history, the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819. A massacre in which the government-backed cavalry charged into a peaceful crowd of over 60,000 that gathered in Manchester, England to demand democratic reform. Sound familiar? Not unlike, the current situation the UK is facing with Brexit and in our own backyard dealing with immigration and health reform.
With dialogue rooted in reality and improv, Leigh’s start and ending images set the stage for the entire film. At the start, the melodic tones of a trumpet are being played in the midst of war chaos. Then a close up on the players face splattered with the blood of his comrades and then complete silence illustrating the impact of PTSD on the young who have enthusiastically fought on behalf of their homeland. Issues like sentencing criminals from the UK to Australia, laborers barely surviving after cut wages and some hanged over stealing a coat in an attempt to keep warm.
The color palate served up by Dick Pope acts as a silent character ranging from muted grey tones to full on Technicolor for the final battle. The passion of the reformers as one members recites Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” while rallying each other to confront the powers to be in hopes of changing their current situation is one of the highlights considering that this film’s dialogue is mostly derived from improvisation. Watching the beginnings of the women’s movement amongst a male society that devalues women is lightly touched upon giving the women in the film more to do than serve and obey.
With a king that has lost his senses and with America having a leader who isn’t to far removed from the times reflected upon in this film, Peterloo reinforces what occurs when the greed of our government is greater than the need of the people they serve. This is when the deterioration of our nation becomes inevitable.
Director Mike Leigh was gracious enough to sit down and chat with me. Here are some excerpts from that conversation. You can catch Peterloo for yourself when it is released by Amazon Studios on April 5th.
INTERVIEW WITH PETERLOO DIRECTOR MIKE LEIGH