Peterloo - our review (4 out of 5)

I'm not sure why but I was fully aware of Peterloo as a major historic incident before the I saw this film - perhaps those school days all those years ago were worth it after all!


The long drawn-out wars against Bonaparte had come to an end at Waterloo but back in England democracy was still in its infancy.

The Corn Laws were causing much grief for the working classes while many struggled to find a job.

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The seeds of change were being sown out of despair, though, and in Lancashire particularly there were groups and organisations being created based around the need to improve lives.

Of course, employers, magistrates, the government and even up to the Prince Regent saw all this as the seeds of revolution.

So this was the background to the Peterloo massacre when soldiers and yeomanry attacked a massed open air gathering of men, women and children in Manchester, killing more than a dozen and injuring scores.

Director and writer Mike Leigh presents it in his own inimitable way, without frills and refusing to bow to conventional Hollywood style.

As in his last project, Mr Turner, there is incredible attention to detail.

Rory Kinnear plays the famous orator Henry Hunt, a man who seemingly enjoyed being the focus of attention, and Maxine Peake is Nellie, whose family form the foundation to the story.

There are other familiar faces such as Philip Jackson, Jeff Rawle and Victor McGuire but many others were new to me and helped make this all the more realistic.

At two and a half hours long, with mostly conversation and speeches, this may not be for everyone but I’m happy to say it certainly didn’t drag at any stage for me.

The massacre itself is brutal but without glorifying the violence and you get a real feeling of the panic and despair.

Peterloo in itself didn’t change much at the time (in fact there was a crackdown on reform) but it was marked point in time in the long fight for democracy.

Worth thinking about if you decide not to vote at the next election.

Film details: Peterloo (12A) 154mins

Director: Mike Leigh

Starring: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Neil Bell

Screening courtesy of Horsham Capitol