PETERLOO – Review
Now here’s a historical epic that tackles a little known event (at least here in the states) involving an act of rebellion against Great Britain. Is this film about the American Revolution (that we know about) in the1770s? No, maybe it presents another version of India’s fight against British rule? Wrong, nor does is it present another incident from “the troubles” that plagued Ireland. 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of a tragedy stemming from a rebellion against the Crown and Parliament by her own countrymen. That’s right, it was not on foreign soil, rather it was St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester UK where much British blood was spilled. Harkening back to the military victory 16 years before against Napolean’s French forces, the local press dubbed this dark Monday PETERLOO.
This docudrama actually begins with the end of that battle, when the Duke of Wellington triumphed at the Battle of Waterloo. As the government decides to bestow a several
With such a sprawling tale (in the age of digital manipulation can we still really say, “A cast of thousands”), there’s no true lead actor here who figures into the story’s scenes from beginning to end. A point could be made for the film’s second and third acts that Kinnear as Hunt becomes the tale’s driving force and focus. The talented actor is more than up to the task channeling the charisma necessary for a speaker who would inspire hundreds to travel on foot in order to hear a bit of him (the big end speech recalls the sermon gag from MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN…”Blessed are the cheesemakers?”) in those pre-electric amplifier days. But Kinnear shows us that Hunt was not without his faults. We see the vanity in his flashy signature garb (he must have his white coat and hat) and an ego touched with hubris (he truly believes that only his presence can stop any hint of violence). Other stand-outs include Moorst as the PTS-
Writer/director Mike Leigh once again lauds and embraces the “working class”, giving them more nobility than their greedy abusive “betters” (the Prince Regent as played by Tim McInnery is a slightly smaller humanoid Jabba the Hut). But, as with the portrayal of Hunt, they’re not devoid of quirks and “warts”. Again, harkening back to BRIAN, there’s lots of infighting inside the movement as certain fractions get annoyed with more radical branches (“Imprison the King’s family!” quickly turns to “Behead the Royals!”). And naturally, there’s the old “green-eyed monster” as one of the event organizers is miffed that he won’t speak prior or post Hunt (though his angry retreat to the pub may have saved his life). Leigh orchestrates the big cast scenes with the same urgency as the intimate encounters inside the tiny cottages or in the corner of a barn. Plus he fills the atmosphere with a palpable sense of danger, the tension tightening as the planning builds to the momentous Monday. And then Leigh delivers with a sun-drenched nightmare full of carnage and chaos (every third woman seems to have an infant). Big kudos to the fantastic work by the crafts artists who make us feel as though we’re on those streets 200 years ago. A couple of scenes set in the cotton mills with all the machines spinning away at full scenes are simply jaw-dropping. Thanks to these talented men and woman PETERLOO is a vibrant history lesson that’s riveting and still quite relevant.
4 Out of 5
PETERLOO opens everywhere and screens exclusively in St. Louis at the Hi-Pointe Theatre and Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas