I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…
“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”
I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end.
Part of the problem lies in the shameful obscurity of the subject matter, the massacre of peaceful protestors by government forces in St Peter’s Field, Manchester in 1819. Divulging the necessary background information, such as detail on the Corn Laws, flies against Leigh’s methods and so far too often actors are mouthpieces for exposition rather than the fully-fleshed characters we’ve come to expect.
So despite flickers of brilliance (Dorothy Atkinson’s singing, Vincent Franklin’s villainry), the interlinked stories of PTSD-suffering soldiers, long-suffering mothers and newly-suffering politicians add up to a whole load of suffering for the viewer. As they wind up for the climactic struggle, there’s not much more than a shameful sense of relief. Next.