So, the red carpet's out and there's bouncers everywhere, as the Engels statue looks on with folded arms in the square outside Home. It's premiere time for Mike Leigh's epic, Peterloo. And the Salford Star is not invited.
However, I have got a ticket for the peasants' overflow screening at the Odeon on Deansgate, thanks to a mate and the Peterloo Memorial Campaign, and I'm here to pick it up. In front of the barriers, the mainstream media, which normally couldn't give a fuck about the annual Peterloo commemorations in Manchester, are scrambling to get in place when Mike Leigh appears, making his way down the carpet giving interviews en route.
I sneak around the barrier and gegg in, waiting patiently while some radio bugger spends about half an hour getting the Salford director's life story, which will probably make about thirty seconds on air. Leigh's people are anxiously trying to drag him away. I lean over and get one question in...
'Er, how important is it that Salford people see this film?'
"Guess what the answer is to that" he laughs "Of course it's important...the fact that it's our history is important, but also that it has resonances to now, it's relevant..."
...And with that, it's goodbye to the Hollywood-on-Irwell glitz and on to Deansgate, where a serious looking audience (no popcorn here) is awaiting a seriously awaited movie...
Peterloo is a bit like any bible film in that you know the ending; like, everyone gets crucified. So, rather than simplistically telling the story, Leigh concentrates on the nuances of the many characters who played their part in the massacre, contrasting the pompous, and usually pissed, magistrates, politicians and monarchy with t'mill town dwellers who are scrambling to get eggs, bread and penny pies to eke out an existence.
The film starts with a soldier left bewildered at the end of the battle of Waterloo, walking back to Manchester before collapsing into his mother's arms, starving and exhausted. Cut to Parliament, where MPs, who represent no-one, grant the Duke of Wellington a reward of £750,000 for his victory. Bastards!
Cut to t'mill...Late for work? You get beaten up. Cut to t'courts...Rob a coat? You get hung. Nick a watch? Banished to Australia. Have a few slurps of your master's wine? It's a whipping. Arseholes!
All is black and white between the bourgeoisie and the working class. Poverty and harsh corn taxes on one hand; decanters full of claret and luxury lives on the other. But hark! The rulers are aware of "seditious activity in the north", and are determined to stamp it out, as spies with low slung hats hang around secret meetings where t'workers are plotting rebellion...well, a petition to get the vote at least.
But hark again! The reformers are split themselves between the middle class radicals who want a softly, softly peaceful approach via Parliament, and working class rebels who, having heard of the French revolution, want to crank up the anger and resistance.
It becomes a bit of a theme, with superstar orator of the day, Henry Hunt, portrayed as a complete self-absorbed knobhead, in contrast to Middleton's Sam Bamford, the man of the people who gets the reality and danger of the times, as local orators and agitators are jailed and beaten up.
As these little mini-dramas go off behind the scenes, t'workers are preparing for the big march to St Peter's Field and the massacre that follows...
Don't expect to be sat on the edge of your seat all the way through this long film. Action-packed, it's not. Mike Leigh has too much respect for the subject matter and this is a more or less accurate historical drama rather than Hollywood blockbuster schmaltz.
Actors, mainly local like Maxine Peake and Pearce Quigley, are scraped of their make-up, and dressed in dour clothes that match the dour sets, as they dialogue in t'brogue of t'day. This is not 19th Century merrie England. The yanks – and those brought up on damn Van Schwarzenegger garbage - will fucking hate it. But, as Mike Leigh said on the red carpet, overlooked by Engels, it's our important history and it's relevant.
Just getting the finance and backing to make Peterloo was a major achievement. To do it on Mike Leigh's terms, without compromise, was an even bigger achievement. And now that Peterloo is not taught in schools, and loads of people don't even know what it was, or that it happened on our own doorstep, it's incredibly vital that everyone is dragged kicking and screaming to see it, support it and, hopefully learn from it. In 2019 its two hundred years since it happened.
On the same day that Peterloo was premiered, three anti-fracking protesters were freed on appeal, after being jailed for their 'deeply held beliefs' in the seditious north. The judge who originally sentenced them was found to have family connections to the fracking industry. Britain is still riddled with vested interests and class bias.
You thought we'd moved on from Peterloo? We haven't even moved on from the fucking Tudors. For Window Tax read Bedroom Tax...
Long live the 'seditious north'!
Peterloo is being screened in cinemas nationwide.
Review by Stephen Kingston