Maxine Peake warns 'distressing' class divide could lead to new Peterloo Massacre

17 October 2018, 21:32 | Updated: 17 October 2018, 23:24

Actress Maxine Peake has warned universal credit, food banks and zero hours contracts could lead to a repeat of the Peterloo Massacre almost 200 years ago.

She was speaking at Home in Manchester at the premiere of Mike Leigh's film Peterloo about the 1819 massacre and said: "We're not a million miles away from it happening again in this country, we've got to be very, very vigilant."

She told Sky News the film's themes are more relevant than ever.

"It's a vicious circle we go round and round in. If we're looking at the effect of zero hours contracts, food banks, mass unemployment, the debacle that's universal credit.....that's what I find so distressing 200 years later we're still in the same position today."

Maxine is part of Leigh's ensemble cast and believes this story must be told.

"We should remind ourselves of the story so we don't end up there again....I know people say we're in a better time than we've ever been in but it doesn't feel like it for a lot of people.

"A lot of people are really struggling, they call it the working class but people have slid off the scale."

The Peterloo Massacre was one of the bloodiest political clashes in British history in which an estimated 18 people were killed and 700 injured by government troops.

The day started out as a peaceful protest in which a crowd of over 60,000 people gathered in Manchester to demand political reform, specifically workers' suffrage, and to protest against rising levels of poverty.

The movie is part of the London Film Festival and is the only premiere which is being held outside the capital.

Maxine Peake appeared on the red carpet along with director Leigh who said he wanted people to reflect on the issues the film brings up.

He said: "It's relevant on a whole lot of levels. This is a film for people to reflect on...to feel emotion, to be angry, to ask questions.

"You can't fail to see the relevance to what's going on. Not very far from here people are being taken away and locked up because they're objecting to the outrageous fracking that's going on where the government has flown in the face of democracy in making it happen."

Christine Bottomley, who is also part of the cast, told Sky News it's incredibly important that films like this are made to shine a light on contemporary issues.

She said: "Sadly it's incredibly relevant to what's going on today. If you look at an issue like Grenfell Tower, people, who are from a certain class in society, are just left.

"These people had highlighted the fact that their homes were dangerous over many years and sure enough there was a massive, massive tragedy and the people going to the Peterloo Massacre were living in really, really hard times and it's the same kind of thing - they weren't being listened to.

"We have times of universal credit and cuts here there and everywhere and it's shocking how we see history repeating itself."

Leigh worked with the historian Dr Jacqueline Riding on the film and one of the first things they did was to visit Manchester and the People's History Museum which has an exhibition of the time.

Dr Riding, who was Leigh's 'extra brain' on the film, has also written a book about the massacre and says the period in question was a perfect storm of events.

She said: "There was no representation for people and only four years before you had the termination of 22 years of fighting with Napoleon's France.

"People thought with peace would come plenty but in fact everything got systematically worse, crops failed, there was a mass famine, there were food riots...this was the backdrop."

The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs until Sunday 21 October.