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Peterloo

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Peterloo Movie Poster Image
Intelligent, educational, but very long, dry history lesson.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 154 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Certainly some history to be learned here, and story illustrates importance of fight for one's rights against corrupt leaders. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Movie never really focuses on any single character, and the ones who do come to light are very flawed, not particularly admirable or worth emulating; the characters' coming together is more admirable.

Violence

Infrequent but strong scenes of violence. Battlefield with exploding shells, screaming, etc. Soldiers attack with swords; slicing, bloody wounds. Soldiers punch civilians, including women. Dead bodies. Men are clobbered with sword handles. Men are arrested and forcibly thrown in cells, beaten, kicked. General hysteria, chaos, screaming. Throwing potato at carriage, breaking window. Some guns and shooting. Harsh descriptions of whipping, hanging, imprisonment.

Sex

A man and woman sleep in the same bed fully clothed.

Language

Use of "bastards," "ass," "scum." "Jesus Christ."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social/background drinking: beer, brandy. A woman is said to have been intoxicated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Peterloo is a historical epic from Oscar-nominated writer/director Mike Leigh. Set in 1819, it focuses on the efforts of Britain's laboring class to attain representation in Parliament. The movie's many speeches and debates are intelligent and educational, but it's awfully dry. And there are some sequences of strong violence, including battlefield scenes with exploding shells, the military attacking a crowd of demonstrators, characters being beaten, slicing and stabbing with swords, guns/shooting, and people being forcibly thrown in cells, kicked, and beaten. Dead bodies and general carnage are also shown. Language includes uses of "bastard," "ass," and "scum," and there's some casual drinking.

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What's the story?

In PETERLOO, the Napoleonic Wars are over, and traumatized bugler Joseph (David Moorst) makes his way home to his family in Manchester, England. There, times are hard, jobs are hard to come by, and, without any representation in Parliament, everyone he knows struggles. Joseph and his family start attending meetings in which these things are addressed, beginning with the idea of a petition. But a group of magistrates in London learns of the potential insurrection and sends spies to keep tabs on things. The laborers organize a huge rally and enlist famous orator Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) to speak. Hunt demands that all weapons be kept away for fear of inciting violence. But on the day of the rally, August 16, 1819, the government militia charges on the crowd.

Is it any good?

Director Mike Leigh is a master of character-based dramas, but this long period epic doesn't really bother with characters; it focuses instead on arguments and speeches ... lots of speeches. Peterloo is intelligently written, and the dialogue sounds fine; history buffs who already know the story may be enthralled by the down-to-brass-tacks approach. But it isn't a dynamic movie -- it feels dry and static. It doesn't move or engage the same way that something like Steven Spielberg's Lincoln did. Part of the problem is the enormous tapestry of faces that passes before the camera; you're likely to have very little idea of who anyone is or know who's going to stick around.

Some characters who seem like they're going to be important simply disappear, and others are introduced so quickly that it takes a while to realize who they are. Meanwhile, the government men and royalty are portrayed as absolute monsters. (An awkward maid named Bessie is the only real standout, getting a few small laughs in her couple of scenes.) Another problem is that, while the dialogue feels historically accurate -- and appropriately, righteously angry -- it's mostly just shouting and debating. Rarely, if ever, does a character say something about who they actually are, which is the polar opposite of how other Leigh movies (Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year, Mr. Turner) operate. As one character complains in one scene, it's all "talk, talk, talk," and no action.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Peterloo's violence. How did it affect you? Did it seem necessary to tell the story? How does it compare to what you might see in an action movie? Which has more impact, and why?

  • How is this history lesson relevant to our world today? What can be learned and applied to our daily lives?

  • One character predicts that, in the future, "some things will get better, and some things will never change." Was he correct? How?

  • What does the movie have to say about power?

Movie details

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