Peterloo film review

★★★★★

Directed by: #MikeLeigh

Written by: #MikeLeigh

Starring: #RoryKinnear, #MaxinePeake

Film Review by: #DarrenTilby



Mike Leigh’s latest offering bristles with an almost documentary-esque precision to #historical validity and seamlessly draws parallels between the working-class struggles of the past and the present.

#Historicaldrama, #Peterloo, is a pensive and studious piece of filmmaking: meticulous to the numerous facets of this tragic story which details the lead-up to and events of 16th August 1819; where around 15 unarmed protestors were killed by government forces.

The story of the #Peterloo massacre and the events leading up to it is a long and complicated one. What director Mike Leigh has attempted here is a fair but honest approach to telling as many sides of the story as possible. Yes, in 154 minutes in duration, this is a really long film – which consists mainly of people talking and giving speeches – which does at times seem to drag. However, by the end of the film, as the crowd begins forming and government forces ominously manoeuvre themselves into position, we can only watch in horror as the events unfold before us.


There’s a huge cast here of truly extraordinary actors. Stand-out performances from Maxine Peake and Rory Kinnear are anchored by a near perfect ensemble cast; all representing a multitude of characters hailing from a range of social and #political backgrounds. Truthfully, there are too many genuinely exceptional performances to mention; but rest assured, this is a brilliantly acted character-driven film which barely puts a foot wrong.


It’s also worth mentioning the frankly startling amount of effort that has been put into making sure character dialects and accents sound authentic. Characters from Manchester speak with a Mancunian accent; Lancastrians speak with a Lancashire accent and southerners sound suitably so. Even the English language used by characters is that of Early Modern, rather than the Late Modern English we’re used to. But the film doesn't stop there in its quest for authenticity and pitch-perfect regional accents are supported by outstanding costume and set design.


And Dick Pope’s stunning #cinematography ensures we get to fully appreciate the beautiful on-location sets in all their glory. Sweeping vistas of the fully gathered crowd at St Peter’s Field allow us to acknowledge its enormity, whilst understand the problems people had escaping once soldiers had moved into position. Even interior shots, many of which, early in the film, takes place in confined spaces, are beautifully framed and lit with a naturalistic ambience.


The concept of size and space is used cleverly to highlight the growing popularity of this ‘radical’ #grassroots movement. What begins as hushed whispers shared amongst family and friends at home, soon leads to small gatherings in local taverns. And as the idea of fair parliamentary representation becomes more mainstream and widespread, so to do the venues in which these meetings are held becomes grander and more formal. And soon, these previously secretive and unsavoury utterances are being bellowed openly and proudly throughout cavernous town halls and courts all over the north; culminating in the speech at St Peter’s Field.

#Peterloo is one of the finest #historicaldramas I’ve seen for a really long time. Mike Leigh has gone to incredible lengths to really inform us, not only of the events of that day but also those leading up to it; and does so with an #historical credibility rarely seen in film. It feels a little long-winded at times, and there is no spectacularly over-the-top battle scene or bloodbath near the end. But that doesn't make it any less affecting. Ultimately it invests us in the characters, makes us sympathetic to their plight and bubbles with tension before boiling over into that devastating and overwhelming finale.