Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
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. Many protesters were killed and hundreds more injured, sparking a nationwide outcry but also further government suppression. The Peterloo Massacre was a defining moment in British democracy which also played a significant role in the founding of The Guardian newspaper.
A splendid rendition with Mike Leigh's perfect pitch about the commoners.
"Rise like Lions after slumber in unvanquishable number- Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you- Ye are many-they are few." Shelley, from The Masque of Anarchy
No contemporary director depicts and loves the working class better than Mike Leigh: look at Secrets and Lies for the best example. Believing that not enough people know about the massacre in 1819 in Manchester, where the British army slaughtered 18 and wounded scores of commoners peacefully assembling for liberty and rights, Leigh filmed Peterloo, the popular name for the uprising.
With an ear for local locutions and pompous preening, Leigh alternates between the people and their monarchial rulers, showing the sincerity of the marchers and the fear of the magistrates, who wish for nothing more than a Waterloo to stem the French-revolution-like yearnings of the folk. When administrators order the soldiers to squash the gathering, it's the beginning of responsible press reporting the malignity of entrenched rulers.
Leigh's longtime cinematographer, Dick Pope, has exceptional shots of the laborers and their homes to rival the best work of Millet and Courbet. The framing arches and rolling fields provide Pope with contours and colors to complement the dignity and vitality of the people.
However, it's Leigh's unfailing ear for diction and eye for metaphor that distinguish him as a David Lean of the working class. Contrasting the magistrates clustered around drafting the warrants for the crowd and the almost lyrical happiness of the assembly not only sets up the worlds of sad and happy, but they also heighten the terror as the innocent are vanquished by the proud.
Out of this debacle came a strong press that began and never stopped evaluating the ruling class. All hail the emergence of the Manchester Guardian.
"Let a great Assembly be
Of the fearless and the free
On some spot of English ground
Where the plains stretch wide around." Shelley
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