Peterloo and Honey
Dir Mike Leigh ★★★★★
Mike Leigh brings an overwhelming simplicity and severity to this historical epic. There is force, grit and, above all, a sense of purpose; a sense that the story he has to tell needs to be heard right now.
On 16 August 1819, at what we would now call a pro-democracy demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, cavalry and yeomanry charged with sabres drawn into a crowd of 100,000 unarmed people. The troops killed 18 and injured hundreds more.
The government was delighted with the result, and not displeased with the nickname “Peterloo”, as it felt like a rerun of its victory over Napoleon, the creature of something it continued to fear: the French Revolution. Peterloo was eventually the seed of reform and gave rise to the Manchester Guardian.
Leigh creates a huge, crowded canvas. No single story or character predominates, not even the conceited orator and agitator Henry Hunt, coolly played by Rory Kinnear. Maxine Peake plays Nellie, the tough Manchester worker who is the mother to Joseph (David Moorst) a young soldier shown stumbling around dazed at Waterloo in the opening scene. Karl Johnson plays the cantankerous and arrogant home secretary, Lord Sidmouth; Robert Wilfort is the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, and Tim McInnerny brings a grisly black comedy to the role of the bloated Prince Regent.
With this richly intelligent, passionate movie Mike Leigh has fought a brilliant rearguard action on history’s political battlefield.