Internationally acclaimed and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Leigh portrays one of the bloodiest episodes in British history, the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819, where government-backed cavalry charged into a peaceful crowd of 80,000 that gathered in Manchester, England to demand democratic reform.
The film Peterloo will mark the 200th anniversary of the notorious Peterloo Massacre.
On 16 August 1819, a crowd of some 60,000 people from Manchester and surrounding towns gathered in St Peter’s Fields to demand Parliamentary reform and an extension of voting rights. The meeting had been peaceful but in the attempt to arrest a leader of the meeting, the armed government militias panicked and charged upon the crowd. The toll of casualties has always been disputed, but as many as 15 people were killed and up to 700 wounded. The immediate effect of the massacre was a crackdown on reform, as the authorities feared the country was heading towards armed rebellion. However, the outcry led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian and played a significant role in the passage through Parliament of the Great Reform Act 13 years later.
The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 had resulted in periods of famine and chronic unemployment, exacerbated by the introduction of the first of the Corn Laws. By the beginning of 1819, the pressure generated by poor economic conditions, coupled with the relative lack of suffrage in Northern England, had enhanced the appeal of political radicalism. In response, the Manchester Patriotic Union, a group agitating for parliamentary reform, organised a demonstration to be addressed by the well-known radical orator Henry Hunt.