×

Mike Leigh on ‘Peterloo’: ‘It’s About Voices Being Heard’

Historical epics can defeat the very best auteurs. Stanley Kubrick was thwarted by “Napoleon.” Sergio Leone fell at “Leningrad.” Yet Britain’s Mike Leigh delivered “Peterloo” just five years after his Cannes hit “Mr. Turner.” The subject is a political demonstration that took place in Manchester, England, in the fall of 1819, when armed troops attacked a civilian crowd of more than 60,000 people who had gathered in St Peter’s Field to call for parliamentary reform.

You might imagine that this was a long-gestating project for the 75-year-old, but that seems not to be the case. “It vaguely occurred to me [to do it] quite a long time ago,” he muses, “but then I forgot all about it. But the interesting thing is that I, and a bunch of people who grew up in the north, in Manchester, really didn’t know about it. It’s Manchester’s best-kept secret, for some reason that’s very, very worrying to speculate. I mean, I could get the bus from where I grew up and, in 15 minutes, walk about where it happened. But… not a word. And, then, just after we’d made “Mr. Turner,” I thought, ‘Actually, you know what? Apart from the fact that there hasn’t been a film about it, it’s a really important event and subject.’ And as soon as we embarked on it, we became fascinated and overwhelmed by how increasingly relevant the subject is.”

For Leigh, the legacy of the massacre is clear. “The two things that come out of any research into Peterloo are that it was an inspiration for radical movements and it scared the s–t out of the authorities,” he says. But his film has wider relevance. “It’s about voices being heard. And with the rise of the far right all over the place, and the results of democracy – which you see in the U.K. with Brexit and in the States with the election of Trump – it calls all kinds of things into question, about truth, and how people express themselves. I find it difficult to draw straight, cartoon-like political parallels. But you can see that – in terms of people’s needs, the haves, the have-nots, the people with power and the people who don’t have power – it resonates across the board.”

More Film

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. Related BAFTA Nominations: 'The Favourite' [...]

  • Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama

    Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama Title 'Family Members' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patra Spanou has picked up world sales rights to “Los miembros de la familia” (Family Members), which will world premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Variety has been given an exclusive first look of the film’s trailer. The film is the second feature from writer/director Mateo Bendesky, and is produced by Agustina Costa [...]

  • Great Point Media, The Development Partnership

    Great Point Media, The Development Partnership Join Forces on Slate of Movies

    Great Point Media and The Development Partnership, the development and production arm of the talent agency the Artists Partnership, are joining forces to develop, package, and co-produce multiple films, kicking off with three projects, including “Chasing Agent Freegard,” starring James Norton (“War & Peace”). “Chasing Agent Freegard,” which is being produced by “Captain Phillips” co-producer [...]

  • Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’

    Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’ Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s Miami-based FiGa Films, a leading sales agent on the independent Latin American scene, has announced the acquisition of Brazilian doc “Landless,” and released a trailer for the Costa Rican-Spanish drama “El despertar de las hormigas.” Both features will play at this year’s Berlinale Forum and come from young Latin American filmmakers making their [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds Cancels Arm Surgery to

    Ryan Reynolds Cancels Arm Surgery to Promote 'Deadpool 2' in China

    Ryan Reynolds canceled surgery on his arm to fly to China and charm “Deadpool” fans in Beijing on Sunday ahead of the franchise’s unexpected China theatrical debut. Just last week, Fox suddenly announced that a re-cut, PG-13 “Deadpool 2” would hit Chinese theaters starting this Friday – the first time the notoriously blood-splattered and foul-mouthed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content