Released: 2nd November 2018
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, David Moorst, Rachel Finnegan and Tom Meredith
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
The crown in the British film-making crown Mike Leigh is bringing the tale of one of Britain’s darkest moments. The Peterloo massacre isn’t the most taught events in the British school curriculum (it should be)! What makes this even more personal for Leigh, Peterloo happened in his neck of the woods in Manchester. This seems to be Leigh’s grandest film to date and probably his most powerful film for some time. Leigh covers the events of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, where a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester turned into one of the bloodiest and most notorious episodes in British history. The massacre saw British government forces charge into a crowd of over 60,000 that had gathered to demand political reform and protest against rising levels of poverty. Many protesters were killed and hundreds more injured, sparking a nationwide outcry but also further government suppression.
The Peterloo Massacre was a defining moment in British democracy. Mike Leigh captures the event masterfully in only a way he can. He himself a man of the north wanted to share this tale with the world. His scope and vision along with Dick Pope’s cinematography gives Peterloo depth and power. The 154 minute runtime is used to show the build up from all perspectives and Leigh lets all walks of life share their story with the audience. Not a minute goes by where an eloquent and reformative speech is given. The grandeurs of the voices of the people roar and leave you standing to attention. Far from the Leigh formula their is no central character in the tale. We follow the journey of families, journalists, politicians and judges. You try to see the issues at bay from all angles. Leigh doesn’t necessarily want you to care about them. He wants you to remember this travesty and head its message for justice.
The visual execution is flawless but Leigh has created a very long rendition of the massacre. The speeches may seem powerful and you do hope for the best. Peterloo well test your patients. It paces itself to abruptly and you are left with very droll moments. A popular consensus is if he cut the film shorter it would of had more of an impact. Rory Kinnear’s Henry Hunt is a tepid character with only glory at mind. The voices of the common man don’t transcend with him. But he is the key point to rally the people of the North. Kinnear’s acting chops are in full force. Maxine Peake has limited screen time but she brings great emotion and pain to the piece. Peterloo will be played in school rooms for years to come. It may not be his strongest but it was a take that needed to be told.