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There are two key things one takes from Mike Leigh’s impassioned account of the events leading up to and including the Peterloo massacre in Manchester on 16 August 1819. First, there’s a chance we may have underestimated Leigh as a director. The scope and savagery of the magnificent final act, as harrowing in its way as the conclusion to Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, are a world away from the wry intimacy of much of Leigh’s other work. That’s not to denigrate the other films, more to point out that perhaps there are other, bigger stories that he could have been telling.
The other takeaway is how depressingly closely the situation of these ordinary working people from nearly 200 years ago is echoed by the present day. An out-of-touch elite pats itself on the bank balance, while the rest of the country grafts, hand to mouth, through enforced austerity.
It’s just a pity that the film might struggle to connect with as many people as it should. A two-and-a-half-hour running time filled with political discourse and rhetoric can be hard work. And Leigh’s egalitarian insistence on voices for all means that there are a few too many of them in play. Still, there is a fascinating wealth of detail, both in the vividly recreated period backdrop and, more remarkably, given the sheer volume of people on screen, in the characters, however fleetingly they appear.
Source: The Guardian
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