British director Mike Leigh was brought up just a stone’s throw from St Peter’s Field in Salford where in 1819, a large non-violent crowd of people gathered to hold a demonstration demanding political reform. Tragically mounted troops and infantry attempted to break up the rally, killing at least 19 people and injuring hundreds more.

The story’s little known and it’s easy to see why Mike Leigh chose to tell one of the sadder chapters in British history.

Unfortunately for all his good intentions Leigh manages to turn a story that’s ripe for the telling into a long slog that by the end feels as if you’ve sat through a bad history lesson.

The story which begins at the Battle of Waterloo, the massacre happened some four years later hence the nickname Peterloo, is told mainly by characters giving long speeches about the injustices of the day. We learn through various speeches about subjects such as the Corn Laws and “habeas corpus”.

Leigh’s characters, which includes Rory Kinnear as the celebrated reformer Henry Hunt and Maxine Pike as the mother of one of the rebellious families, are either portrayed as being good or bad, for good read the common worker for bad read anyone that’s part of the establishment. I would imagine Leigh’s idea is to make you sympathise with the workers however the characters are so one dimensional and cold that it’s hard to have any sympathy for anyone, no matter what side they take.

The story is so long (154 minutes long) and slow, by the time the fatal massacre happens it’s difficult to have any empathy at all with any of the characters making the centre piece of the movie, the massacre at Peterloo, feel very distant and uninvolving.

If you like history lessons and speech after speech then Peterloo might be for you if not then I would say avoid.

Peterloo (12A)

2h 34m

Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Neil Bell, Philip Jackson, Vincent Franklin, Karl Johnson, Tim McInnerny

UK Release: Friday 2nd November 2018

Peterloo - "Henry Arrives At St Peter's Field" Clip

Peterloo - Hope's All We've Got TV Spot