Rating: 1 out of 5 (poor)
Synopsis: Following the burgeoning democratic movement in England after the Napoleonic Wars, Peterloo squanders all its potential to become a dry historical documentary.
Bad films can be, without sounding masochistic, a good thing to experience. They can be a rude pallet cleanser, a jolting contrast which makes the viewer appreciate the excellent films in existence. Peterloo is not a pallet cleanser, or an unintentional hit following from The Room. Once its exhausts the viewer’s patience, Peterloo is an aching slog through each minute until either the film ends or the viewer leaves.
The potential for greatness was there in Peterloo. The events of Peterloo, which sparked the fires of English democracy, are overlooked in British history. In the current age where London and its satellites are the country’s centre and the Northern provinces where I grew up decay into post-industrial collapse; it was warming to see a film focus on the North and attend a cinema screen filled to the highest row. Opening at the Battle of Waterloo, the contrasting fates of a working-class soldier and the absent Duke of Wellington speak of the excesses and sufferings when the powerful dominate the impoverished. The initial narrative between the haves and the have-nots, displayed in discomforting detail, renders Peterloo’s first twenty minutes a prescient warning to our yawning wealth gap.
Past thirty minutes and director Mike Leigh fastidiously adapts my A-Level course on Victorian Britain’s political reforms. Leigh casts aside all promise of a great film to create something as vapid and dull as the class I endured at sixteen. What ensues is a litany of speeches and conversations, all delivered in the achingly verbose style of Victorian forefathers or lathered with the heavily affected provincial twang of Northerners from that time. The cast, while all commendable, do at first imbue the many conversations and speeches with power and allure. By the twentieth conversation it all melds into a babbling wave of tongues bickering about revolution and rights while the décor has more interest to the viewer than any words uttered. Humour, sparsely sprinkled throughout, rarely hits the mark and often fosters the Northern caricatures Peterloo ought to dispel.
The period’s schism between rich and poor, captured vividly by Charles Dickens is forgotten as actors state line after interminable line. When the end comes, any pay-off is swallowed by the purgatory of stifling scenes and tedious dialogue Mike Leigh subjects the viewer to. Even after the bloodshed at Peterloo, a few more lines are inserted as a parting shot at the audience’s nerves. The highest praise I can give Peterloo is that it should be wheeled in front of future A-level students so that they can have a snooze in class.
When the film ended, I could not decide whether I had been more foolish to sit through Peterloo or to have waited an hour and a half in a crowded art house cinema to see it on a Friday night.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below: