Peterloo (2018)


Peterloo is a 2018 British historical drama, written and directed by Mike Leigh, based on the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.


The film Peterloo marks 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. At that time, Manchester had no members of parliament of its own while the whole of Lancashire was represented by two county MPs.

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 18 people were killed and up to 700 wounded. The immediate effect of the massacre was a crackdown on reform, as the government feared that the country was heading towards armed rebellion. 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.


After the Battle of Waterloo, Joseph returns home from service in the Duke of Wellington’s army to Manchester and his close-knit family headed by parents Joshua and Nellie. Joshua, son Robert, daughter Mary, and daughter-in-law Esther all earn a living by manual labour in a cotton mill. An economic depression makes work impossible for the traumatised Joseph to find and threatens the family’s livelihood. The family is sympathetic to the radical campaigns for equal civil and political rights for all free men and against the Corn Laws that prevent them from buying cheaper imported grain. Joshua, Joseph, and Robert attend political meetings where local agitators including John Knight, Samuel Bamford and John Bagguley speak out against the system of government; Nellie attends a meeting of the Manchester Female Reform Society. The local authorities, led by magistrates Colonel Fletcher, Reverend William Robert Hay, Reverend Charles Ethelston and Mr. Norris and Deputy Chief Constable Nadin, spy on the movement and wait for an excuse to arrest its leaders. The Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, is determined to suppress radical politics. When a disgruntled Londoner smashes the window of the Prince Regent’s coach, Sidmouth uses this as a pretext for suspending habeas corpus.

Bamford and his friend Joseph Healey travel south to London to hear the famous radical Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt speak at a political meeting. Hunt has a reputation for vanity but Bamford persuades Manchester businessman Joseph Johnson to invite Hunt to address a mass meeting at St Peter’s Fields; the Home Office discovers this invitation by intercepting Johnson’s letter. Arriving at Manchester, Hunt goes into hiding in Johnson’s home. Richards, a Home Office spy, is able to provoke Bagguley and fellow radicals Drummond and Johnston into publicly calling for armed insurrection, leading to their arrest and imprisonment. The magistrates plan to suppress Hunt’s meeting and make an example of the attendees using the local mounted militia, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry and a regular army detachment led by General John Byng. Hunt remains certain that he can lead a peaceful rally and sidelines Bamford, when he warns of the likelihood of brutal treatment by the authorities.

On the day of the meeting, thousands of people march into Manchester from the surrounding towns to hear Hunt speak at St Peter’s Fields, including Nellie and Joshua and their family. Bamford leads a procession from Middleton but leaves in disgust on finding that it has been arranged that only Hunt will be allowed to address the crowd. A special committee of magistrates has been assembled to take charge of events, chaired by Mr. Hulton. They appear to be in an upstairs room overlooking the gathering crowd. Norris, who urges restraint at least until any rioting might start, is overruled. Byng has left his deputy in command of the soldiers, to attend a genteel horse racing meet.

Once Hunt begins to speak, Reverend Ethelston reads the Riot Act to the crowd. Although the crowd pays no attention to Ethelston, the magistrates are now legally empowered to disperse the meeting. The Yeomanry cavalry assault the peaceful assembly with sabres drawn, while Hunt and Johnson are arrested by Nadin’s men. The army tries to clear St Peter’s Fields but in the mayhem, the crowd is unable to escape before several people are killed and many more injured. Joseph is wounded with a sabre and later dies. The attending reporters furiously return to their newspapers to expose this atrocity, coining a mocking name for it, “The Massacre of Peterloo”. Despite the massacre, the Prince Regent sends his congratulations to the magistrates for suppressing radicalism and restoring “tranquillity”.


  • Rory Kinnear as Henry Hunt.
  • Maxine Peake as Nellie.
  • Pearce Quigley as Joshua.
  • David Moorst as Joseph.
  • Rachel Finnegan as Mary.
  • Tom Meredith as Robert.
  • Simona Bitmate as Esther.
  • Robert Wilfort as Lord Liverpool the Prime Minister.
  • Karl Johnson as Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary.
  • Sam Troughton as Mr. Hobhouse.
  • Roger Sloman as Mr. Grout.
  • Kenneth Hadley as Mr. Golightly.
  • Tom Edward-Kane as Mr. Cob.
  • Lizzy McInnerny as Mrs. Moss.
  • Alastair Mackenzie as General Sir John Byng.
  • Neil Bell as Samuel Bamford.
  • Lisa Millett as Jemima Bamford.
  • Philip Jackson as John Knight.
  • John Paul Hurley as John Thacker Saxton.
  • Tom Gill as Joseph Johnson.
  • Lizzie Frain as Mrs. Johnson.
  • Harry Hepple as James Wroe.
  • Ian Mercer as “Dr” Joseph Healey.
  • Adam Long as Wroe’s Printer.
  • Nico Mirallegro as John Bagguley.
  • Danny Kirrane as Samuel Drummond.
  • Johnny Byrom as John Johnston.
  • Victor McGuire as Deputy Chief Constable Nadin.
  • Stephen Wight as Oliver the spy.
  • Ryan Pope as Chippendale the spy.
  • Dorothy Atkinson as Singing weaver.
  • Tim McInnerny as the Prince Regent.
  • Marion Bailey as Lady Conyngham.
  • Vincent Franklin as Magistrate Rev. Ethelston.
  • Jeff Rawle as Magistrate Rev. Hay.
  • Eileen Davies as Mrs. Hay.
  • Philip Whitchurch as Magistrate Colonel Fletcher.
  • Martin Savage as Magistrate Norris.
  • Al Weaver as Magistrate Hulton.
  • David Bamber as Magistrate Rev. Mallory.
  • David Fielder as Magistrate Rev. Gutteridge.
  • Fine Time Fontayne as Magistrate Clowes.
  • Robert Gillespie as Magistrate Warmley.
  • Jonathan Jaynes as Magistrate Tatton.
  • Nicholas Lumley as Magistrate Rev. Perryn.
  • Shaun Prendergast as Magistrate Bolt.
  • Alan Williams as Magistrate Marriott.
  • Dorothy Duffy as Mary Fildes.
  • Victoria Moseley as Susannah Saxton.
  • Christine Bottomley as Female reformer.
  • Samantha Edwards as Female reformer.
  • Julie Hesmondhalgh as Female reformer.
  • Kate Rutter as Female reformer.
  • Katie West as Female reformer.
  • Joseph Kloska as Richard Carlile.
  • Leo Bill as John Tyas.
  • Brian Fletcher as Edward Baines.
  • Gary Cargill as John Smith.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Colonel L’Estrange.
  • Guy Williams as Lieutenant Colonel Dalrymple.
  • Michael Chadwick as 15th Hussar.
  • Tristram Davies as 15th Hussar.
  • Oliver Devoti as 15th Hussar.
  • Dan Poole as 15th Hussar.
  • Charlie Tighe as 15th Hussar.
  • Ben Crompton as Tuke, the painter.
  • Bryony Miller as Bessie.
  • Lee Boardman as Nadin’s Constable.
  • Steve Garti as Nadin’s Constable.
  • Michael Culkin as a Lord.
  • Rachel Davies as Pie buyer.
  • Kieran O’Brien as Farrier.
  • Noreen Kershaw as Drunken servant.
  • Bob Goody as Outraged reformer.
  • Debbie Harding as Quizzical lady.


Filming began in May 2017. Production shot the interior of the Tarred Yarn Store in Plymouth, Devon, and the exterior of the Ropery at the Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent to double as a cotton mill in Manchester. St Mary’s Marshes on the Isle of Grain also appears in a short scene at the beginning of the film, when a lonely figure is seen walking along the marshes.

Much of the dialogue is in traditional Lancashire dialect. To achieve this, the director used the book The Dialects of South Lancashire, which was written by the same Samuel Bamford who is portrayed in the film.


  • Approximately 90% of the crowd during the sequence at St. Peter’s Field was digitally duplicated and created; in reality, there were 200 extras.
    • The sequence was filmed at Tilbury Port, and many of the buildings were also added in post-production, re-created from historical records.
  • The character of Samuel Bamford uses more Lancashire dialect than other characters.
    • The real Samuel Bamford published books on the Lancashire dialect as well as on political matters.
  • The speech delivered by Rory Kinnear in “London” was filmed in Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire, and was written by Kinnear himself.
  • The aging Prince Regent’s false teeth are not a grotesque touch added by the filmmakers but a historical fact.
    • In 1829, he pretended to have mislaid them as an excuse not to read the controversial Roman Catholic Relief Act before Parliament.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Mike Leigh.
  • Producer(s):
    • Daniel Battsek … executive producer.
    • Danielle Brandon … co-producer.
    • Sue Bruce-Smith … executive producer.
    • Gail Egan … executive producer.
    • Lizzie Francke … executive producer.
    • Helen Grearson … associate producer.
    • Peter Hampden … executive producer.
    • Chris Lahr … line producer.
    • Georgina Lowe … producer.
    • Ollie Madden … head of creative: Film4.
    • Norman Merry … executive producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Mike Leigh.
  • Music:
    • Gary Yershon.
  • Cinematography:
    • Dick Pope.
  • Editor(s):
    • John Gregory.
  • Production:
    • BFI Film Fund.
    • Film4.
    • Thin Man Films.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Entertainment One (2018) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Amazon Studios (2018) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Entertainment One (2018) (Ireland) (theatrical).
    • Odeon (2018) (Greece) (theatrical).
    • Academy 2 (2019) (Italy) (theatrical).
    • Gaga (2019) (Japan) (theatrical).
    • Mongrel Media (2019) (Canada) (theatrical).
    • Paradiso Entertainment (2019) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
  • Release Date: 01 September 2018 (Venice Film Festival, Italy).
  • Rating: 12A.
  • Running Time: 154 minutes.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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