Critical Eye: The Rochdale Pioneers: forget the acting, what a story!

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I watched five minutes of The Rochdale Pioneers (Film4, 11 November, 5.45pm) before I was defeated by the sepia lighting, stilted dialogue and flat-capped, cobble-streeted sentimentality (think Victorian version of Corrie) and had to switch over.

But I’m made of sterner stuff and, having recorded it, I returned to the story of the birth of the modern co-operative movement the following night. And you know what, about half an hour in, I’d stopped checking my watch every five minutes and wincing at the leaden script and am-dram acting (many of the cast and crew working alongside established actors such as John Henshaw and John McArdle had been recruited from the local community). And I was, as the Yanks say, emotionally invested.

What drew you in was the story itself. It is remarkable how dogged The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers were in their mission to establish the first proper co-operative store, in the face of ignorance, mistrust and even malice. And you found yourself really rooting for them as they overcame the obstacles to secure a site, refine the model and source the goods (from Manchester market in the absence of a wholesaler).

Who could have foreseen, when the first store flung open its doors - selling just flour, oatmeal, sugar, butter and candles - that the Rochdale Pioneers would set in motion a movement today boasting 1.4 million co-ops worldwide and a billion members? Should be compulsory viewing in schools - in history class anyway, if not film studies.

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