A portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre, where a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester turned into one of the bloodiest and most notorious episodes in British history. Many protestors were killed and hundreds more injured, sparking a nationwide outcry.
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Politicized language gives Peterloo epic stature — it’s a brilliant filmmaker’s version of the Tower of Babel noise in Armando Iannucci’s aggravating, TV-style The Death of Stalin. These characters convey the intellectual and emotional engine behind political movements.
I wish the long-gestating dream had resulted in a better film. I don’t want to read too much into things that I only know second or third hand, but in a sense “Peterloo” shows the pitfalls of the dream project.
Every so often, someone will remark that the time for talk is past, that what is needed now is action. But part of the argument of this brilliant and demanding film is that words are deeds, that language matters.
A big but diffuse canvas that paints a picture of injustice, but is marred by crude intervention of caricature. To stretch the analogy: it’s portrait by spatula not fine brush. Here everyone is a type: the poor are poor and the rich are rich - and wicked. Everyone representative of their class with motivation a even poorer second. It’s all foreground not back; maybe a pen portrait might have rendered more heart.
I understand the polarization. But for me, this was an incredible film and the way historical political films should be made- an evocation of the present without directly referencing it. Mike Leigh realizes that the poor have always been treated like shit and until there is true leftist policies and equality, we must be angry and stand up to the bourgeois authority!
Amidst a positively Dickensian cast of characters, some of them verging on caricatures, it is more than a tad dispiriting that the major parts are all played by Basil Exposition on the basis of a script by History O'Level. The most effective sections of the film by far are those dealing with the massacre itself. The heart is definitely in the right place; it is a shame that the head gets rather too much in the way.
Obviously Leigh can script an incredibly verbose, intricate and polemical period drama without stress - my main issue is the feeling of watching an elaborate game of dress-up when these words are played to the back of the room. I spent way too much time noticing the extras. Doesn't necessarily diminish the power of the way it speaks earnestly across classes, or the way it eschews tidy drama/valorisation.
Wonderful period costumes/attention to detail (great to see hats placed on tables crown-down instead of brim-down). Maxine Peake is terrific. Otherwise, left cold by erratic editing. One scene she has pies; next scene she's begging for eggs. Other scenes take too many famous actors too long to conclude. Climax is filmed oddly: full layout of the square and where the army is attacking from are difficult to discern.
3.6 stars. Yes, it's a men talking in rooms (and sometimes on the moors!) film, but it still knocks spots off the likes of 'Lincoln' in terms of individualizing the mass and making common people seem imbued with an essential humanity, which has always been one of the strengths of Leigh's film-making. This doesn't stop early 19th century speeches from being early 19th century speeches, but the effect is moving.
A daring, demanding and robustly intellectual film. It is certainly worth seeing though; despite a few flaws, it is a film with some real power in it. Some viewers may find their patience tested (there are some seriously long-winded speeches) but getting into the contemporary frame of mind really sets up an emotional climax. All of this is done with a serious eye for detail too, it felt very authentic to the period.
A bold and epic film from Mike Leigh covering a little known episode in the history of working class England. Made at a time when the poor are often portrayed as stupid & undeserving of the vote by the left, and deceived into voting against their interests by the right. Violence against the working classes is now mainly social & economic; less immediate but no less severe than the violence depicted so vividly here.