Starring: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley
Director: Mike Leigh
Running Time: 154 mins
Peterloo is a British film about the true story of the growing movement for universal suffrage, and the event where government forces massacred peaceful protesters in Manchester in 1819.
Although it details an interesting and somewhat unknown history, Peterloo is a painfully dry watch throughout. Dragging on for over two and a half hours at an excessively slow pace, coupled with a serious lack of impact for the story at hand, Peterloo proves really difficult to stay interested in, and even though it does save itself to a degree as it builds to its finale, it’s unfortunately a mostly dull and unnecessarily heavy-going watch.
Let’s start with the film’s opening act, which is undoubtedly the worst part of all. If you don’t know about what happened in the Peterloo Massacre, then the film does prove an educational piece, however the first hour or so contributes very, very little to the overall impact of the movie.
Covering the origins of the pro-democracy movement in Manchester at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, as well as introducing you to some of the main players involved in the history, the film struggles immensely to grab your attention as it pushes through a painfully dry and underwhelming hour of exposition, complete with over-the-top, theatre-style performances, and dialogue that does very little to inspire any sense of passion for the cause over simple moaning and complaining.
And that’s one of my biggest issues with Peterloo as a whole. While its first hour is exceedingly tedious (I was honestly nodding off at times), the whole film really lacks the intense passion and drive that you would think its story should afford. Director Mike Leigh does clearly have a passion for the history, such is his in-depth and rather overlong portrayal of it, however there’s nothing emotionally rousing about the story, and with such dry exposition in the opening act, I even felt disconnected from the main characters, leaving some of the film’s main moments of drama feeling very underwhelming indeed.
If you do make it through the first hour, however, then you will see that Peterloo does improve to a degree. Although it’s still not an exceptional watch by any means, the first real signs of conflict and deeper tension surrounding the pro-democracy movement emerge, with the most interesting line of focus coming in the form of conflict within the movement with regards to committing to peaceful protest in the face of threat from government forces.
That at least creates a bit of intrigue and momentum in the build-up to the main demonstration in the final act, and with the introduction of Rory Kinnear’s performance as Henry Hunt – the only memorable and engrossing performance in the whole film – Peterloo does at least prove a little more interesting as it moves towards its conclusion.
As for that conclusion, however, it’s a little bit more of the same from the first act. Although the actual demonstration has some high drama, it’s still presented in a rather dry and underwhelming manner, in part thanks to a layover from the emotionless build-up during the first act, while also once again showcasing just how much the film is lacking in real, tangible passion beyond a dull and repetitive dialogue about class struggles.
Overall, I found Peterloo a painfully boring watch. Starting off in terrible fashion with a tedious first hour, the film lacks the necessary emotion and passion to make the power of its history really hit home on screen. It does improve somewhat through the second act, and finally develops a bit of momentum as the main demonstration comes onto the horizon, but with a rather underwhelming finale that follows, I was overall really rather disappointed with Peterloo, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.4.