Peterloo review - a beautifully furious film
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Verdict: A beautiful, furious film, but if Mike Leigh was hoping to convert viewers to the cause of opposing iniquities in the present day, then the accessibility of this slow, long film may be an issue in converting those other than the choir. The first thing that strikes you about Peterloo is that aesthetically, this film is lavishly historical, minutely detailed, and so utterly immersed in its setting that you wouldn’t believe for a second that this isn’t an actual slice of history. Beyond the visual, there is also a fascination with rhetoric, and the powerful sway which ideas held over the conflicted time following the French revolution. Huge swathes of the film are given over to eloquent oration from all sides of the debate, delivered from a series of absolutely fantastic performances, such that we the cinema audience are somehow included in the pub- or meeting hall-audience of nineteenth century workers. What’s also astounding is the arresting way in which era-defining figures are plucked from history and appear in the film as if accidentally stumbled upon in their natural habitat – Samuel Bamford, Henry Hunt, the Prince Regent, and Lord Liverpool, among many others, are presented with utter conviction. The mystifyingly potent oration is of course wonderfully contrasted with the ignorant brutality of the enemies of the reformation. Everything is elevated in opposition. Of course, there is an element in which this power and passion creates characters who are larger than life: Reformers who are impossibly humble and noble, Tories who are impossibly callous and alien in their upper-class mannerisms. Some of the acting tends towards the melodramatic, particularly in this latter group of fusty aristocrats, brutal sergeants and leering minions of the establishment. The ruling class characters are wonderfully grotesque creations who really make your skin crawl.
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