Starring Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, David Moorst, Rachel Finnegan, Karl Johnson
Is 76-year-old Mike Leigh’s latest film "Peterloo" the most mundane film you will see this year? Probably. Which explains why it didn’t sell at last year's Toronto Film Festival and is only now hitting theaters seven months later. Leigh’s argument that the events of "Peterloo" are more relevant today than ever before is quite correct. Regrettably, the editing makes this feel like a '90s PBS special and it draws the story out for over two hours. The five-time Oscar-nominated writer and director has delivered his most grandiose film to date in terms of budget and scale. Unfortunately, "Peterloo" has no actors with any compelling screen presence, the improvised dialogue ( Leigh’s method) is like watching a stage play, and the look of the film couldn’t be farther from the beauty of "Mr. Turner," one of his previous works.
The common people have had enough of the government’s neglect. The middle and upper classes live comfortably while the working class starves. The workers ban together, strength in numbers, and choose Henry Hunt (Kinnear) as their voice. They gather for a protest rally that was explicitly peaceful and weaponless. Despite this, the local leaders of Manchester bend the law to suit their whim in order to disrupt the monumental gathering. 15 are killed, including women and children, with over 400 injured as the authorities on horseback, armed with swords, sliced and diced through the crowded assembly.
Regrettably, the editing makes this feel like a '90s PBS special and it draws the story out for over two hours.
Without intending to lessen the importance of the Peterloo Massacre as detailed in the film, there couldn’t be a less progressive film playing in theaters right now. Hours of dull characters shouting and arguing on screen in accents most American audiences won’t even comprehend. Authenticity is important to Leigh, his historical drama reaches for accuracy above all else. Continual close-ups of the characters rotten teeth and pock-marked faces authenticate this attention to detail. Scene after scene in the first half of the film shows the radicals meeting and shout and assert their goals. Those sentiments are then repeated to the elected officials who shout some more about what course of action is necessary. Then finally the commoners relay what was discussed to their women, who met separately. In essence, we get to hear the same arguments three times. This constitutes the bulk of "Peterloo."
At one point in the female assembly, a woman interrupts, saying she doesn’t understand anything that’s being said. Other women around her agree, as will most of the viewers of this film. Leigh has no intention of dumbing the film down for the audience, he expects a lot of his viewer and scoffed at the idea that the 154-minute runtime should be trimmed. “Liberty or death” they chant at most of the protests. Liberate me from this movie is what you will likely be silently chanting.
"Peterloo" would have been better suited as a television special or miniseries, doesn’t work as a feature length film.