Peterloo 200th anniversary TODAY: What happened, how accurate is film? | Films | Entertainment


The Napoleonic Wars had ended in 1815 seeing widespread famine and unemployment in its aftermath, only made worse by the introduction of the Corn Laws. On August 16, 1819, around 60,000-80,000 people took part in a pro-democracy demonstration at St Peter’s Field in Manchester. A radical orator Henry Hunt was speaking, demanding the reform of parliamentary representation. However, local magistrates commanded the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Hunt and other protest leaders, leading to the Peterloo Massacre.

The Yeomanry charged into the crowd, injuring a woman and killing a child before getting to Hunt.

While the 15th Hussars were called on to disperse the crowd with their sabres leading the gallop.

As a result, 15 people were killed and over 600 injured in the Peterloo Massacre.

The horror of the event was reported widely by newspapers but saw the government crackdown on their reforms.


Nevertheless, the Peterloo Massacre led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian and eventually saw Parliament pass the Great Reform Act in 1832.

The Act hit the “rotten borough” constituencies problem head-on, creating a fairer distribution of parliamentary seats.

While male suffrage was expanded, giving the vote to all householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more and some lodgers.

Last year Mike Leigh released Peterloo, a historical drama depicting the Massacre, but just how accurate is it?

According to the Daily Telegraph, the aesthetics, costumes and dialogue “exude realism”.

However, a few facts in the script aren’t quite true.

For example, the Corn Laws did not ban imports of cheap grain, as one character wrongly says.

Meanwhile, the outlet claims Leigh caricatures the ruling class as just wanting to preserve themselves, when in reality they also wanted to stop a repeat of the French Revolution in Britain, with the potential for years of destruction.

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