(director/writer: Mike Leigh; cinematographer: Dick Pope; editor: Jon Gregory; music: Gary Yershon; cast: Rory Kinnear (Henry Hunt), Maxine Peake (Nellie), Pearce Quigley (Joshua), David Moorst (Joseph), Karl Johnson (Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary), Philip Jackson (John Knight), Tom Gill (Joseph Johnson), Steven Wight (Oliver The Spy), Tim McInnerny (Prince Regent), Sam Troughton (Mr. Hobhouse), Alastair Mackenzie (General Sir John Byng), Neil Bell (Sam Bamford), John Paul Hurley (John Thacker Saxon), Nico Mirallegro (John Bagguley), Danny Kirrane (Samuel Drummond), Johnny Byrom (John Johnston), Dorothy Duffy (Mary Fildes), Victoria Moseley (Susannah Saxton), Vincent Franklin (Magistrate Rev Ethelston), Dorothy Atkinson (Singing Weaver), Marion Bailey (Lady Conyngham); Runtime: 154; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Georgina Lowe; Amazon Studios; 2018-UK)

An epic historical film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An epic historical film by the crusading populist liberal Brit filmmaker Mike Leigh (“Topsy-Turvy”/”Mr. Turner”). It suffers from being too talky. But gets its story straight of the Peterloo Massacre as the defining moment in British democracy, with its damning portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre–where a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester turned into one of the bloodiest and most notorious episodes in British history. When the British government forces charged into a crowd of over 60,000 demonstrators for political reform and protest against the high growth of poverty, the bloody result was many protesters died or were injured.It’s an impressive film, using a magnificent ensemble cast and being precise in its details of the events, to give the viewer both a factual reading of history and an invented one that is enjoyable.It begins its tale with a young shell-shocked soldier named Joseph (David Moorst), on the bloody battlefield of Waterloo in 1815, and then shows England after the war sharing the spoils of victory with only the rich, passing the cruel tariff-fixing Corn Laws inflating prices, and shook-up by the heated struggle over the vote and the start of the Reformist movement.It does this as it follows the traumatized ex-soldier Joseph back home in Manchester, with his impoverished mom (Maxine Peake) barely able to buy bread.

You don’t have to be a political junkie to see how the government policies in 1819 strike a similar chord with today’s world problems. Leigh easily connects the past with the present, as he pokes fun at the inept reformers. He uses as his foil the movement’s figurehead moderate reformer, Henry “Orator” Hunt (Rory Kinnear), a man of wealth. Henry is a pompous twit, who has difficulty connecting with those he’s supposed to be representing.

Each of the story’s many talking points—from politicians and protestors to informants and journalists—is given its proper say. Which makes for an uneven and long drawn-out movie, but one that won me over because when it connects it really resonates like few other historical epics and I am willing to live with its drawbacks. The payoff for sitting through all the chit-chat is the gut-wrenching climax, an elaborate set-piece of the massacre that strangely enough holds out hope that through needed revolutionary activities things will change for the better.It’s a serious film from a serious director, who also knows how to make films that have playful elements and things about it that his fellow liberals can relate to.Over the years, with access to bigger and bigger budgets, Leigh has only become a better filmmaker.

"Peterloo" features (from left)  John-Paul Hurley, Ian Mercer, Rory Kinnear and Neil Bell.

REVIEWED ON 7/7/2019       GRADE: A-