Stars: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, David Moorst, Karl Johnson, Tim McInnerny
Mike Leigh’s most ambitious film to date marks the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre, when the cavalry charged 60,000 peaceful protestors in St Peter’s Field, Manchester. It begins with the indelible image of a traumatised soldier, Joseph (David Moorst) staggering around a battlefield surrounded by the carnage of battle. He begins the long trudge home until exhausted he arrives at the family home in Manchester. His father Joseph (Quigley), increasingly angered by mounting poverty and parliament’s unwillingness to grant the working class the vote, has begun attending radical meetings. His wife Nellie (Peake) is more sceptical of real change being achievable and disdainful of ‘London leeches’. Meanwhile in Westminster politicians, mindful of a potential repeat of the French revolution, despatch a spy to the meetings. A protest is planned for August 19 with progressive land-owner and orator Henry Hunt (Kinnear) invited to speak. What promised to be a potent allegory for our times proves to be a huge disappointment. It looks great with Dick Pope’s photography investing the pokey cottages with the luminous quality of the Dutch masters, but too much of the excessive 154 minute running time is taken up with repetitive speeches, and outlining the ego clashes between the home-grown northern speakers and the pompous but essentially decent Hunt. Kinnear and Peake are always watchable, but all too often the script resorts to caricature, especially of the upper class characters, when the facts of the incident are damning enough. The climatic cavalry charge is suitably shocking, and well-mounted, but undercut by a misjudged and very jarring tonal shift.