Film Friday: Peterloo

It is 1819. In Manchester the working people long for change, they are poor, hungry and diminished by unjust laws. They plan an open air public meeting to call for change, inviting a gifted speaker from London to lead the event. The hierarchy however refuse to listen and resort to planning violence in the case of an uprising. In this clip London speaker Henry Hunt is heralded as a hero as he arrives at the massive gathering at St Peter’s Field.

YouTube video

However, things do not go well, and heartbreakingly, the peaceful gathering turns into an appalling massacre. Those in power resorting to power to crush the honest cries of ordinary people.

There are a couple of moments in this film when the oppressed folks mention Jesus as the great reformer. He inspires them to stand up, peacefully, against what is wrong in the system. Jesus lived at a time of upheaval, in a society filled with great oppression and unfairness. When he stood up and declared that the poor and grieving were going to be blessed because God was with them, that must have sounded like the best news they could hear. So many of his hearers were poor and downtrodden, being damaged by those who ran the religious and political systems of his day. However, Jesus understood that if he were too obvious in his calls for change the Roman authorities would pile in and do what they did to all would-be reformers – crucify them and all those who were on their side. Reform was not seen as an option.

However, 2000 years have passed and there is now no sign of the mighty Roman Empire, in crushing Jesus’s peaceful revolution they began the very process of change that he spoke about. His resurrection heralded a new dawn and now, today, there are two billion followers of Jesus around the world. And the story continues of lives laid down for this revolution; on so many occasions when powerful people have attempted to crush the church, it has instead proved to revive it. This is not always true, in some cases the powers-that-be have prevailed. But many times, against the odds, the church has risen from the dust of oppression, and continued to grow and reach out to those who are broken, powerless and trampled.

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