It may as well have been a 20 minute short film
Mike Leigh’s fascination with the events of the St. Peter’s massacre of 1819 is evident from the way he has set out to recreate the events in his latest feature. The long and arduous journey from small conversations of a potential protest against a despicable government to the gathering and banding together of 60,000 thousand people in the centre of Manchester, makes for an intriguing story, but transferring that on to the screen was always going to be difficult, and it appears as if Leigh himself found the task a problematic one.
With the gap between the upper and lower class citizens of the United Kingdom growing wider than ever before, those living on the breadline decide something must be done. Banding together behind Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) the people of the north decide to form a protest, against the will of the rich. However, the protest grows to an unimaginably large size, causing those in power to make a rash decisions.
The final 20 minutes of Peterloo is a beautifully crafted set of shots, detailing how brutal the attack upon the crowd was in St. Peter’s Field. The dust swirling around the protesters, and the Yeomen’s horses dashing across the screen give a real immersive sense to an event that took place 200 years ago. Something that almost has no right to generate such a realistic physicality.
However, the previous two hours are absolute tosh, bringing about conversation after conversation of essentially nothingness. None of the conversations progress the story, none of the dialogue builds towards the moment. Peterloo is an incredibly flat film, failing to rouse any excitement for its final moments.
It undeniably looks brilliant, but without any punch or impetus towards Peterloo’s focal point, it may as well have been a 20 minute short film. It is a real bore, and isn’t the ‘tell all’ story line it needed to be. It’s ties to the current state of British politics are there, but the film isn’t strong enough to make those comparisons worth any more than just a short mention at the end of a review.
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