REVIEW – Mike Leigh’s Peterloo

© Photograph: Simon Mein, Courtesy of Amazon Studios

On 16th August 1819, 60,000-80,000 men, women and children gathered together in St. Petersfield in Manchaster for a peaceful protest and to hear the orator and political reformer Henry Hunt.

The local magistrates concerned by the gathering issued a warrant for the arrest of Hunt (and others.) In the execution of this warrant the Yeomanry and 15th Hussars charged into the crowd, but coming from different directions left no route for the gathered throng to disperse.

In the chaos, 15 people were killed and 400-700 seriously injured.


Mike Leigh’s film shows the political climate and social deprivations that lead to the massacre predominantly through the eyes of a working-class family who’s son Joseph (David Moorst) had returned from Waterloo (only a few years earlier) into a landscape defined by poverty caused by the Corn Laws. As Nellie (Maxine Peake) struggles to keep the family fed and clothed her husband and son are drawn into the reform meetings that are happening all over the country.

When the meeting in Manchester is called groups form up all over the local area to practice marching and to organise themselves for the procession into Manchester to hear the speech of Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear)

This film is a must for anyone interested in politics or history, the massacre shocked the world and in the long-run lead to the reform of parliament and the representation of the lower classes. It shows the events behind the scenes by the authorities to try to ban the demonstration and agitation by them to try to create proof that the demonstration would be violent.

The echoes of the events portrayed are still relevant to the present day.

At just over 150 minutes I was expecting a long film, and the opening scenes had me thinking it would seem even longer, but the film is so immersive that I was surprised when the events depicted reached the climax.

Peterloo is on general release at cinemas from 17th October 2018

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