PETERLOO Review — An Intentionally Bitter and Brutal History Lesson

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Peterloo Review — Award winning British director Mike Leigh’s latest is consummately important, but extremely tough to watch.

Peterloo reviewNaive as I am, whenever I see a film about the Civil War, I am stunned that a government ever sanctioned that type of behavior, and people actually went to war to defend it. I felt the same way when I watched the historical film Peterloo, about a dark hour in British history where troops on horseback savagely massacred English citizens who gathered to peacefully protest their lack of representation in Parliament.

In 1819, roughly four years after the Battle of Waterloo ended the Napoleanic Wars, 60,000-80,000 residents of the Manchester, England area (director Mike Leigh’s home turf) gathered in a civic area known as St Peter’s Field, to protest poor economic conditions and lack of representation in that area and to call for Parliamentary reform.

In an effort to disperse the crowd, the magistrate sent in the calvary who weighed in, sabres drawn, killing 15 people, including women and children, and injuring 400-700 more.  This bloody, brutal and realistic, almost 30 minute scene is what the first two long hours lead up to, and it’s almost unbearable to watch. Don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you. This one should definitely be rated R.

The vast majority of the film’s action is packed into that last, harrowing scene. Up to that point, the characters on both sides of the issues seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dictating their own letters to themselves as they write them, and windily discussing the worthiness and brilliance of their ideas with each other. For the most part, they are long, stuffy and didactic monologues, although some are vaguely amusing.

Leigh, (Mr. Turner, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake) deserves some credit for exposing the blot on his hometown history with such distinctive strokes. Still, it’s a long, slow wait for the devastatingly brutal and violent ending.

Rated PG-13

2 Hours 33 Minutes

If, after reading reading this Peterloo review, you’re interested in seeing it, get times and tickets at

Peterloo Review — Award winning British director Mike Leigh’s latest is consummately important, but extremely tough to watch.


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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

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