Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Rochdale Pioneers (2012)

This is my second watch of The Rochdale Pioneers, a beautifully shot little fifty minute feature film, specially commissioned as a tribute to the founders of The Co-operative Movement here in the heart of the north in the 1840s.

The conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 brought with it widespread famine, chronic unemployment and drastic wage cuts in the working classes of the UK.  Four years later, in Manchester, a peaceful call for reform to improve conditions and gain suffrage  ended in tragedy; the demonstration being cut down by cavalry in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre. From there, many co-operative ventures commenced taking tentative steps  to improve conditions, but they had all faltered and failed.

This is where we join the action of the film; in 1844 Rochdale, the pioneers of the movement  are determined to succeed and  to provide affordable alternatives to tarnished poor-quality food and provisions, using 'honest weights and measures', with the surplus benefitting the community. It was the vision and efforts of this small number of working class men that became the true birth of the co-operative movement, with the principles still in use by the modern co-operative today (despite the scandal and misfortune to strike the Manchester based co-op of late); a movement which now numbers around 1.4 million independent enterprises with nearly 1 billion members worldwide.

It's a loving and fitting though admittedly earnest tribute, nicely presented and portrayed with Mancunian favourite John Henshaw standing out in particular in the cast. It may be somewhat reminiscent of the old educational TV series How We Used To Live, but I reckon that's in its favour rather than a criticism. I still maintain, as I said in my original review, that this would be a useful tool to play in classrooms up and down the country.

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