Monday, 5 November 2018

Mubi Monday: Peterloo (2018)

Yes, I got to enjoy another movie at the cinema thanks to Mubi Go, and here is the review of it.

Peterloo starts in a battlefield, pretty much ends in a battlefield, and never really leaves a battlefield for most of the runtime. It's just often a battlefield that people walked through every day, throughout a war that continues right now. A class war, a war that endeavours to make the poor even poorer while the rich get richer, and to keep the working masses in their place.

Based on the true story of a peaceful rally in 1819 Manchester  that became the scene of a massacre, writer-director Mike Leigh uses that horrific event to show the clashing mindsets of those involved, emphasising the chasm between the viewpoints. Those who work hard and can barely make enough to live wanting something to change in the system that gives them no voice and those who look down from above and view any such intentions as ingratitude and insurrection.

Although there are some key figures here (speaker Henry Hunt, played by Rory Kinnear, being the powerful orator who charges up every crowd he speaks to), Leigh takes his time to show how various individuals are motivated and drawn further to the extremes of their respective causes. This care, and the many telling character moments, add to the lengthy runtime, just over two and a half hours, but I doubt many viewers would begrudge the runtime devoted to such a dark chapter in British history.

Kinnear does an amazing job, in what is arguably the best role of his career so far, Maxine Peake is typically great as a concerned family matriarch, and there are too many great moments for the assorted players to highlight here, but I will namecheck Karl Johnson (a close second to Kinnear with the greatness of his performance), Philip Jackson, Tom Gill, Neil Bell, Ian Mercer, and Victor McGuire, not to mention the many actors being loathsome and downright Dickensian for all of their time onscreen.

There are small flaws. Some characters come and go too abruptly, some scenes feel a little bit clunky in the way they are shoehorned in between more extended sequences, and (the smallest niggle) the passage of time isn't always as clearly signified as it could be in the lead up to the dreadful day.

If you saw the documentary The 13th and were appalled while being reminded that the abolishment of the slavery of African Americans in the USA led to many more ways in which society decided to punish and enslave those it viewed as lower-case citizens, within a new selection of rules and regulations, then Peterloo will leave you with similar feelings. Because, no doubt about it, there may not have been another massacre like this in modern British history but the working class and the poor are still being killed off whole the rich get richer. The pen is mightier than the sword, which is why the weaponry used nowadays tends to take the shape of paperwork and legislation, such as zero hour employment contracts and Universal Credit.


There's a book all about the horrific incident available here.

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