‘It’s the film everyone’s talking about’, said one critic about the impending release of ‘Peterloo’. Honestly? I haven’t heard one soul mention it. I agree most Mancunians know at least something about that rather dark day in British history, but I’ll wager few beyond that sprawling metropolis know anything about it.
In short, the Peterloo Massacre took place in 1819. Peterloo is a portmanteau of Waterloo, the famous battle which had taken place just 4 years previous, and St Peter’s Field, the now rather swanky area of central Manchester where most of the city’s financial district is located. Thousands had gathered there in the summer of 1819 to demand voting reform. It had been noted that most of those entitled to vote at the time were living in southern England, and there was concern that hundreds of thousands of those in the north were denied to chance to participate in the democratic franchise. Eventually, a local magistrate summoned the Army to charge and disperse the angry crowd. Several hundred were injured and 15 deaths resulted from the operation. It was a sinister chapter in our country’s history (though all countries have such chapters), with a plaque now commemorating the event close to where it occurred.
Thus, Peterloo encapsulated three themes: The resentment by the working classes about their exclusion from politics; the attitudes of a political elite based in London who saw their interests threatened by demands for much wider and healthier democracy; and the abuse of state power.
Spot the similarities with Brexit? I can! They’re all over the place. The Brexit vote: overwhelmingly a phenomenon of regional England and Wales – especially northern England. The London elite: voices concentrated in the capital that not only like to pretend we’re too thick to know what we voted for, but who are trying with gusto to overturn or water down Brexit to point of meaninglessness. The abuse of state power: voices across government and civic society making absurd prediction about what is ‘guaranteed’ to happen if we experience a clean Brexit. If you take the blood loss out of the equation, Brexit and Peterloo could be almost political twins.
Do you know what really makes me puke when it comes to film stars and celebrities? It’s those who pay homage to working class experiences on film, without having the slightest damn clue what makes many of us tick in real life. Take Mike Leigh, the director of ‘Peterloo’. Here we have a man anxious to burnish his empathetic credentials in a celluloid exposé of working class rebellion. However, ask him about Brexit and you get a smug, condescending answer of unabashed luvvie-dom; ‘Oh, intelligent people voted to Remain.’ The implications? Those as thick as an ostrich egg omelette were Leavers. Thanks, Mike. Your worshipful perspicuity literally takes my breath away.
If you ever have time, take a look at some of the Twitter feeds of actors who’ve made their name portraying working class figures. When it comes to Brexit, they’ve about as much comprehension of working class feeling as I have of nautical archaeology. This portrayal or camaraderie with today’s British working classes is just a means to a healthy wage packet. They don’t understand us; they don’t live among us; they sneer at the greatest enfranchisement in British political history from behind their frappés in Horseferry Road coffee shops. So don’t bother expanding their wealth by watching their films. It only inflates their senses of hypocrisy and self-importance. Peterloo? I couldn’t watch it if I wanted to!