Movie review / ‘Peterloo’ (M)

Share Canberra's trusted news:
“Peterloo”… depicting the massacre at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, on August 16, 1819.

WHEN Thomas Arne composed what is now a commonplace (and oft misquoted) song for James Thomson’s poem “Rule, Britannia” in 1740, with its chorus ending “Britons never shall be slaves”, Thomson was telling how things were before the Industrial Revolution changed everything forever.

Nowadays a nation using its military forces to suppress public support for political reform would incur global opprobrium, even intervention. But what happened on St Peter’s Field, Manchester on August 16, 1819, became a microcosm of progress toward today’s inalienable principles of universal freedom of speech and everyone’s right to stand for political office. In 1819, neither of those existed in Britain.

Writer/director Mike Leigh’s bulky (155 minutes) political history film begins at Waterloo with Britain and Prussia victorious against Bonaparte. A young redcoat bugler is sounding the ceasefire. In Britain there is joy that for Manchester millworkers fades with the onset of noisy, mechanical weaving and squalid living conditions.

Four years later, stuttering Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth (Karl Johnson) sees the seeds of major social change being prepared for sowing and orders one of Wellington’s generals to travel to Yorkshire to be ready in the event of an uprising that might disturb the established social order.

Orator Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) arrives a week before giving an address in Manchester. To hide him from the government, his supporters billet him with Joshua and Nellie (Pearce Quigley and Maxine Peake). The bugler is their son who intends to wear his red army jacket on the day.

These are but a few of the narrative pegs from which Leigh has hung his film climaxing in the Peterloo massacre. It’s not populist cinema. It’s cinema craft of a high order, especially in its staging of a day the legacy of which most of the world’s countries now enjoy.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

"Peterloo" (M) ****
Previous articleMovie review / ‘Little Woods’ (M)
Next articleTCCS fails to identify Mimosa’s attacker
Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

Leave a Reply