How Mike Leigh Shot the Complex, Poetic, Brutal ‘Peterloo’ Massacre

How Mike Leigh Shot the Complex, Poetic, Brutal ‘Peterloo’ Massacre
The climactic massacre from “Peterloo” may well be the crowning achievement of the nearly three-decade collaboration between director Mike Leigh and cinematographer Dick Pope. Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the brutal government crackdown of the political rally in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field, the event marked the first action sequence for Leigh and Pope, thrusting them into new cinematic territory.

The Peterloo Massacre was a massive undertaking in terms of scale and managing a cast of hundreds. The filmmakers reenacted the infamous tragedy, in which the cavalry charged a crowd of more than 60,000 gathered to demand increased parliamentary representation after the English economy was ravaged following the Napoleonic Wars. Hundreds were injured and 15 people were killed. But despite its complexity, the massacre did not deviate from Leigh’s method of shooting unscripted and workshopping the staging and performances.

“It was less a technical challenge and more a matter of
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