PETER­LOO

DI­REC­TOR MIKE LEIGH EYES PRESENT DAY WOES IN THE NEW HIS­TOR­I­CAL DRAMA ‘PETER­LOO’.

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - CONTENTS FOCUS - JOE JACK­SON WRITES

Bri­tish di­rec­tor Mike Leigh irst turned his hand to his­tor­i­cal drama with “Mr Turner” in 2014. Now, the 75-year-old Leigh — feted for ilms such as “Se­crets & Lies”, “Vera Drake” and “Abi­gail’s Party” — is re­turn­ing to the 19th cen­tury with a retelling of Bri­tain’s Peter­loo mas­sacre.

Leigh be­lieves his lat­est ilm holds lessons for the present day — in ev­ery­thing from aus­ter­ity and ap­a­thy to au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and Brexit.

The Os­car-nom­i­nated film-maker said “Peter­loo”, de­pict­ing the deadly and tu­mul­tuous 1819 as­sault on pro-democ­racy protesters at St Peter ’s Field in the north­ern city of Manch­ester, re­mains rel­e­vant in our “wor­ry­ing times”.

“Given the speed with which chaos has been en­su­ing not only in the UK... in this pe­riod... it does res­onate,” Leigh said on last week ahead of the movie’s re­lease in Bri­tain next month.

“Peo­ple were protest­ing about the vote but also about their liv­ing con­di­tions, and we know that’s got par­al­lels (with to­day),” he added.

None­the­less Leigh is ea­ger for au­di­ences to make their own minds up on the lessons to be learned from “Peter­loo”.

“I’ve never made ilms that say ‘think this’, what I’m do­ing is invit­ing you to relect” he said.

“The au­di­ence can only de­code and deal with the ilm in terms of your 21st cen­tury life — there’s no other cur­rency you can con­vert it into.”

The so­cial move­ment cen­tred movie, set for re­lease out­side Bri­tain next year, hits screens as the #MeToo cam­paign con­tin­ues to lour­ish — some­thing Leigh is cel­e­brat­ing.

“It’s as­ton­ish­ing that these things are only just be­ing con­fronted now,” he said.

“It’s out­ra­geous and it’s great that in­ally peo­ple... get in there .... ”

“Peter­loo” is the most ex­pen­sive ilm Leigh — an Os­car con­tender ive times, in­clud­ing for “Se­crets & Lies”, abor­tion drama “Vera Drake” and most re­cently “An­other Year” — has ever made.

It chron­i­cles, over two and-a-half hours, the par­lia­men­tary re­form move­ment that swept im­pov­er­ished north­ern Eng­land in the early 19th cen­tury, when only two per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion were al­lowed to vote.

“It’s about democ­racy, it’s about peo­ple be­ing heard. It’s also about those in power and those who have no power, and those who have and those who haven’t,” Leigh ex­plained.

Dis­con­tent was stoked by aus­ter­ity mea­sures in the after­math of the costly Napoleonic Wars.

They in­cluded the much-hated Corn Laws putting tar­iffs and re­stric­tions on im­ported food and grain to keep prices high and favour do­mes­tic pro­duc­ers.

The ilm cul­mi­nates in the Peter­loo mas­sacre — named af­ter the bloody Bat­tle of Water­loo four years ear­lier — when troops on horse­back charged into crowds of at least 60,000 peo­ple, killing 15 and in­jur­ing hun­dreds.

Although the protesters’ de­mands took many decades to be fulilled, Leigh said the tragedy “is gen­er­ally re­garded as an im­por­tant land­mark in the his­tory of Bri­tish democ­racy.”

Fast-for­ward two cen­turies, he says, and those who took to the streets then would be dis­mayed by the ap­a­thy of modern-day Bri­tain, where around a third of vot­ers typ­i­cally fail to turn out at elec­tions.

“They would be hor­ri­fied, shocked and frankly dis­gusted by the fact that peo­ple have the vote now and don’t use it,” Leigh said.

The ilm-maker added that his 19th cen­tury time trav­ellers might also recog­nise as­pects of their po­lit­i­cal world in to­day’s Brexit-dom­i­nated land­scape.

“It’s a ram­bling, sham­bling mess, and to some de­gree... the sit­u­a­tion 200 years ago was also a ram­bling sham­bling mess,” Leigh said.

He sees par­tic­u­lar peril for the ilm in­dus­try in Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the Euro­pean Union next March — from no ac­cess to grants to fewer con­ti­nen­tal col­lab­o­ra­tions.

“Euro­pean cin­ema has an iden­tity which I am very pas­sion­ate about be­ing part of,” he said. “It will be­come very di­fi­cult.”

The vet­eran di­rec­tor, who re­cently be­came a grand­fa­ther for the irst time, is also con­cerned by a host of other global is­sues, from the treat­ment of mi­grants to over­pop­u­la­tion.

The 75-year-old said that land­mark, paired with mak­ing a drama set 200 years ago, had forced him to take a long view.

“I think about my grand­son and what will the world be like in 2100,” he ad­mit­ted. “It’s very dif­fi­cult not to start to be a bit on the pes­simistic side.”

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