Award-winning director Mike Leigh (Mr Turner, Happy-Go-Lucky) makes a rare foray into period drama, choosing to focus on the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.
It begins in rhetoric, shifts from a drawn-out history lesson and ends in violence as the government of the day uses the troops against the people, a peaceful 100,000 strong pro-democracy rally in St Peter’s Field, Manchester. The result is the death of 18 demonstrators and hundreds more injured.
It’s an austere canvas, with talk the order of the day, both in the parlours and inns of the reformers and the offices of the ruling classes. But then, on the big day itself, Leigh releases the tight reins of dialogue and produces an immersive panic, claustrophobic in content as the yeomanry and cavalry run amok in the confinements of the rally.
A superb ensemble piece (with Maxine Peake – Funny Cow, The Theory of Everything – a standout ‘everywoman’) that is as current today as 1819 when austere taxation measures and policies were in place to keep power in the hands of the few.