Director forced to seek stand-ins for pre-industrial Manchester as he works on his biggest project yet about 1819 massacre
The sedate streets of Guildford played an unlikely part in an uprising this summer, probably for the first time since the barons made King John put his seal on Magna Carta in nearby Runnymede. Surrey’s county town is one of a series of historic English locations chosen to stand in for Manchester as the film-maker Mike Leigh tells the story of the campaign for parliamentary reform leading to the Peterloo massacre of 1819.
Parts of Bedfordshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Kent and Essex will also serve as backdrops for the director’s most ambitious and expensive film yet, because of their corners of preserved historical architecture and street furniture. Guildford boasts splendid 18th- and 19th-century buildings and is particularly proud of its “granite setts”, or original flat cobbles. But Leigh failed to stage any riots on them. His Guildford sequences are “quieter, storytelling scenes” with “no bayonets”, a casting agent confirmed.