Peterloo: Period Epic Could Be Trimmed

PETERLOO featuring John-Paul Hurley as John Thacker Saxton, Ian Mercer as Dr. Joseph Healey, Rory Kinnear as Henry Hunt, and Neil Bell as Samuel Bamford. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Peterloo revisits the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 but Mike Leigh’s period epic could stand to lose a good half hour or full hour in length.

I love a good epic as much as the next person.  Hell, I even love a sexy British accent.  But I could not fall in love with Peterloo due to the film’s bloated length.  This isn’t to say anything bad about long films but the pacing was too slow for my comfort.  It is never a good sign when I start to check my watch every few minutes starting from the 45 minute mark.

Leigh chooses to start the film with the Battle of Waterloo.  Not THAT Waterloo!  Anyway, the battle helps set the stage for the headlining massacre at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester.  Some 60,000-80,000 people were gathered in support of political reform and to protest the poverty levels.  Unfortunately, the British government would hear nothing of this.  They would order their forces to suppress the reformers.  If reformers is the right word because resistance surely isn’t.  It gets really bad.  This incident would turn out to cast a bad eye for King George IV (Tim McInnerny), then the Prince Regent until his father’s death a year later.

By opting to start with Waterloo, it introduces us to a solider named Joseph (David Moorst).  There’s not much depth to him as character.  The only reason he’s really here is because his family is one that sets to join the campaign for reform.  Joseph is practically a nobody when all is said and done.  Meanwhile, the Duke of Wellington get rewarded.  General Sir John Byng (Alastair Mackenzie) ends up getting a post as the Commander of the Northern District.  Trouble is brewing in the district.  This particular trouble comes by way of hopes for political reform.  One man, one vote!  During this era, the lower class people do not have the right to vote.  This does not stop England from taxing them!  Everything comes to a stop when orator Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) addresses a large crowd in Manchester.

Going against the crown means reformers such as Samuel Drummond (Danny Kirrane), John Johnston (Johnny Byrom), and John Bagguley (Nico Mirallegro) end up getting put in prison and beaten.  Did anyone in Britain remember why America chose to revolt against the crown?  I digress.  Part of the problem here is there’s just so much material that gets packed in.  Is a montage of trial scenes really necessary.  So what if a man took another man’s jacket?!?  What does it serve with regards to the story?  This is a question that I cannot answer in the positive.  Basically, Leigh’s script is somewhat of a mess.  While it does it the important points, there’s at a good half hour of unnecessary material if not more.

Peterloo‘s final twenty minutes are among its most important and it is the reason why we’re here.  Unfortunately, there’s not much to say that’s positive.  At one point or another, it begins to feel like we’re waiting forever for the headliner.  The minutes drag on ever so slowly.  Coincidentally, this is not the first film that I’ve felt this way.  No, there is another.  While the film did not appeal to me, I’m certain it will appeal to others.  This is not to say it’s not well-acted because there are fine performances.  It just isn’t my cup of tea.

CAST:  Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Neil Bell, Philip Jackson, Vincent Franklin, Karl Johnson, Tim McInnerny

Amazon Studios opens Peterloo in theaters on April 5, 2019. A theatrical expansion will follow. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.