Cameras roll on a moment of English history

Top director: Mike Leigh
Top director: Mike Leigh

Cameras were rolling in Calderdale again last week when film-makers returned to the area, this time to film a big-budget film about an infamous moment in British history.

Award-winning director Mike Leigh is shooting a film about the Peterloo massacre in 1819, and last week filmed scenes in Slack Bottom, Widdop Road and Heptonstall itself, high on the hills above Hebden Bridge.

Historic setting: Heptonstall  forms the backdrop to a Peterloo scene

Historic setting: Heptonstall forms the backdrop to a Peterloo scene

Peterloo saw a a peaceful, pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester in August 1819 broken up by Yeomanry troops sent by watching magistrates into a crowd estimated to have been as high as 60,000 people. As troops charged those who had come to hear radical Henry “Orator” Hunt speak, around 15 people killed and up to 700 injured.

The event was quickly named Peterloo, after the Battle of Waterloo four years previously, and one of the dead, John Lees of Oldham, was an ex-soldier who had fought at Waterloo.

Director Leigh’s last film, Mr Turner, also a foray into history about the 19th century painter William Turner, was critically acclaimed and received four nominations each at the Academy Awards and British Academy Film Awards. Other Mike Leigh films in an almost 50 year career include Secrets And Lives, Topsy Turvy, Life Is Sweet, Naked and Meantime, while films made for TV include Nuts In May and Abigail’s Party.

Mike Leigh has said: “There has never been a feature film about the Peterloo Massacre. The universal significance of this historic event becomes ever more relevant in our own turbulent times.”

More than 100 actors are involved in the film, which is being co-financed and distributed in the U.S. by Amazon Studios, with additional backing coming from Film4, BFI and Lipsync. It is the latest in a number of productions recently shot for film or TV in Calderdale, including television shows Ackley Bridge, Last Tango In Halifax and Happy Valley.