Review: Peterloo | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Peterloo

Film Critic Kat Forbes is slightly underwhelmed by Peterloo, Mike Leigh's telling of an important moment in British history

On 16th August 1819, 600 Hussars attacked a crowd of 60,000 at a peaceful assembly in St Peter’s Square. The assembly were listening to speakers and protesting for greater working class representation in the Houses of Parliament. The attack left 18 people dead and 700 injured. Journalists, who were speaking at the assembly, were arrested and imprisoned by the local yeomanry. This event became known as ‘The Peterloo Massacre’, in an ironic play-on-words of the Battle of Waterloo that happened a few years before. The Peterloo Massacre was influential in expanding the suffrage of working class men and led to the founding of newspapers such as The Guardian.

To say the plot of the film is male-dominated is an understatement

Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, covers the build-up to the massacre with the actual event having about 30 minutes of screen time in the 154-minute film. This build-up mostly consists of following the many different storylines of the men involved in the massacre. From Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary (Karl Johnson) and even a couple of scenes with the Prince Regent (Tim McInnerny); to say the plot of the film is male-dominated is an understatement. The film follows the stories of magistrates, newspaper editors, factory workers – however what it fails most to cover is the stories of women. This is slightly harsh: the leading female character Nellie (Maxine Peake) has a number of scenes where she struggles to care for her family and discusses the assembly with her husband. Additionally, there is a single scene where women form a league to support male suffrage. But, other than these moments, women play incredibly minor supporting roles throughout the film. Being realistic, the covering of the story of Peterloo would have to be somewhat male-dominated, as the story and the time were male-dominated. However, was it really necessary to make the film that male-centric?

Peterloo could have been made much better if it was just shorter

Looking at the film as a whole, it was interesting, but also long and slow. I checked the time during the film, thinking it was near the end, and I was only an hour in. Peterloo could have been made much better if it was just shorter; however, with 154 minutes of mostly conversational scenes, it ends up draining and average. In terms of the acting, there are a lot of strong performances, particularly from Vincent Franklin and David Moorst who managed to push me through. Overall, for a film that covers the story of a massacre, I do not think it captures the horror of the event; instead, it mainly portrays the confusion and fear of the people and the arrests of the speakers. Additionally, in the aftermath of the event, one of the scenes shown is of two journalists in the Square, surrounded by the dead, discussing how they can market the massacre as ‘Peterloo’. This comes off as completely unfeeling, and is a strange and unnecessary addition to the film. Peterloo is a film about the power and development of the newspapers in the nineteenth century and much less about the loss of life and the oppression of the working classes. I feel like Peterloo is a boring and uncaring way to cover the events of 16th August 1819.

VERDICT: Peterloo provides very little to the world of cinema and, with its lengthy runtime, you would think that it would cover this horrific massacre with more detail and compassion. As well as this, I cannot quite get over the film’s lack of female representation. Peterloo is decidedly average; see it if you want to but you won’t miss much if you don’t.


Third Year History Student. (@_kat_forbes_)


21st November 2018 at 7:00 am

Last Updated

20th November 2018 at 1:04 pm

Images from

Film 4 Productions