I have been anxiously waiting for this movie to stream on Amazon in the United States. Since today is the anniversary of Peterloo (August 16, 1819), and my ancestors are from Manchester, I checked to see if it was finally available. Alas, it is on Prime now to watch, but unfortunately, much of the movie is a massacre as well.
Because this is such a historical event, I had hoped to enjoy the film. My ancestors were poor, and parts of the movie broke my heart frankly. Though they lived in Manchester around 1850’s and onward, which is much later than this occurrence, it still tugged at my heartstrings because I knew they struggled in some of the poorest areas of the city.
The movie is long, but contains quite a few familiar faces of English male actors. Directed by Michael Leigh, it appears to have been praised in England (read here The Guardian’s Review), I personally found the film tedious and poorly acted in many scenes. If you love to listen to great orators of the English language, you may be enthralled by some of the speeches. Frankly, I was impressed by their ability to memorize and deliver such large portions of script.
The movie, 153 minutes long, is filled with talk, speeches, and not much else, until 60,000 to 80,000 people gather for a peaceful demonstration to hear pro-democracy rhetoric by radical orator Henry Hunt, who called for parliamentary reform and repeal of the corn laws. If you wish to read the historical account, good old Wikipedia has a page on the Peterloo Massacre.
The sad end is the last fifteen minutes of the movie watching the Calvary arriving to drive the crowd away. Of course, they drew their sabers and history records eighteen dead and 400-700 injured. I would have thought that tidbit of information would scroll at the end of the film, but it did not. It ended with three journalists from London, Liverpool, and another paper (Leeds, I think), talking about writing a story about the Peterloo massacre. It was termed that because the aftermath looked like the battle of Waterloo, only it happened in St. Peter’s Field.
Sadly, I do think the movie could have been better and more engaging. Instead, it became a snooze fest for me, and I did fast forward through a good thirty minutes of it to get to the part where everyone assembles at St. Peter’s Field.
What we can take away from the story, though, is that this was a dark period of cruelty perpetrated against the poor who only wanted a better voice in the House of Commons. Instead, they were silenced by the swords, and men, women, and children died all because they wanted more food on their tables and better lives.