For all the wrong reasons, you can tell Peterloo was a passion project for Mike Leigh, and that the longstanding, beloved auteur has a deep fascination for the period. Every scrap of historical detail about Lancashire and Manchester reformists in the late 1810s has made its way into this two-and-a-half hour film, making it both very informative and terminally boring.
Leigh takes a documentary style, steadfastly refusing to have anything approaching a main character, and instead getting the perspective of a vast number of figures in the buildup to, and day of, the 1819 Peterloo massacre. The headline names are Maxine Peake (as poverty-stricken working mum Nellie) and Rory Kinnear (as famous orator Henry Hunt), but they get little more screen time than anyone else. Though this paints a well-rounded picture of the various sides involved at Peterloo, we’re not given enough time with anyone to invest in them.
Town hall meetings go on forever, every speaker ending their address by announcing the following speaker until it feels like Leigh is mocking you – there are an embarrassing number of superfluous scenes. At least half an hour needed to be cut in a far less lax edit, and the studied, period-accurate language gets in the way of a lot of the performances.
Peterloo itself only takes up the final 20 minutes of Peterloo, and your patience will have already expired by the time this bland finale rolls around. The scale of the event isn’t successfully recreated, and any attempt to convey the chaos ends up coming across as simply bad choreography.
It’s sad to say, but with Peterloo, Mike Leigh has dropped the most disappointing film of the year. After Mr. Turner, its potential was huge, but it fails to live up to almost any expectations.
CAST: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Neil Bell, Pearce Quigley, David Moorst
DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh
WRITER: Mike Leigh
SYNOPSIS: A drama based on events surrounding the 1819 Peterloo Massacre where British forces fired on a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester.