For a movie about a famous massacre, Mike Leigh’s Peterloo is very dry

Mike Leigh’s films have always been first and foremost about people. He makes incredibly rich and detailed character studies, famously conducting his actors through months of improv work before he even sits down to write a screenplay. Somehow, that’s been the case even when he’s occasionally tackled famous historical subjects, like 19th-century Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner. Topsy-Turvy recounts the creation of The Mikado, but everybody on screen, from Gilbert and Sullivan themselves down to the smallest member of the ensemble, registers just as vividly as do the wholly invented characters in Naked or Secrets & Lies.

That’s what makes Leigh’s latest effort such an anomaly. Peterloo doesn’t deliberately skimp on character, but it’s the first of his movies in which no inividual makes much of an impression, and each one is fundamentally subordinate to the larger event being painstakingly chronicled. “Peterloo” is the nickname given to a massacre of unarmed civilians by cavalry soldiers that occurred on August 16, 1819, at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester. (Just as we now strip the “Water” from Watergate for every similar scandal, they stripped the “Water” from Waterloo, suggesting an equivalent to Napoleon’s then-recent bloody defeat.) Eigtheen people were killed in the melee, with hundreds more injured; the movie builds to the horror, eventually showing just what happens when men on horseback charge into a crowd with their swords drawn and start indiscriminately slashing at people who are just trying to get out of the way.

To his credit, Leigh is less interested in the massacre itself than he is in the series of political machinations that inexorably led to it. His challenge: That’s an incredibly dry subject—England’s equivalent of Ben Stein droning on to Ferris Bueller’s classmates about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Here, the proximate cause of all the trouble is tariffs imposed on imported grain, known as the Corn Laws; widespread dissatisfaction with these laws, which benefited wealthy landowners at the expense of everyone else, resulted in demands for parliamentary reform.

Peterloo makes an effort to demonstrate how this affected a typical Manchester family, opening with one weary soldier (David Moorst) returning home from Waterloo and subsequently becoming semi-radicalized as a result of the deprivation. Mostly, though, the film consists of public meetings at which organizers bellow things like “The object of Parliament ought to be the general good, the equal protection, the security of the person and property of each individual, and therefore labor—the poor man’s only property—ought to be as sacred as any other property!” That sort of rhetoric almost always gets exhausting in a hurry (even MAGA-heads who wait in line all day to see Trump free-associate often leave early), and it represents a sizable chunk of this lengthy film’s first hour [ . . . ]

Read more at AV CLUB: For a movie about a famous massacre, Mike Leigh’s Peterloo is very dry

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Two for Joy review – heartfelt tale of a family facing calamity 

Samantha Morton and Daniel Mays star in Tom Beard’s beautifully shot drama about a fateful trip to the seaside

Tom Beard is a British photographer and filmmaker, here presenting his debut feature: a confident, good-looking, heartfelt film in the pastoral social-realist style, with strong performances from an excellent cast, including Samantha Morton and Daniel Mays. There are some lovely images and ambient moods conjured by cinematographer Tim Sidell, and, with editor Izabella Curry, Beard creates a plausible rhythm to his story, moving from a tough urban estate to an almost idyllic looking seafront and back. Continue reading

It’s Withnail and her in Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Directed by Marielle HellerCertificate 15☆☆☆☆

Melissa McCarthy and Richard e. Grant

LIKE a slimmer version of the great Uncle Monty, Richard E Grant sashays his way into this marvellous film with an unquenchable thirst for substances that make him feel skewwhiff, a vocabulary of gorgeously pronounced swear words (can anyone else give the f-word such depth and richness?), and a tragic backstory that feels so much like Richard Griffiths’ seminal outing in Withnail and I that it feels like Grant is paying homage to his co-star.Throw in a knockout performance by fellow lead Melissa McCarthy, and you could have had this these two characters doing absolutely nothing but sitting in a bar and I’d pay top dollar to watch it.

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‘Stan & Ollie’ goes beyond the laughs

Grade: A-

Were Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy the greatest comedy duo in film history?

Childlike, unimposing Stan Laurel was a Brit, the lantern-jawed, cartoon-faced son of a theater manager and an actress, born in Lancashire in 1890 and trained in the music hall, where he honed his skills in song, dance and comedy. For a time he worked as Charlie Chaplin’s understudy, and he arrived in the United States on the same ship as Chaplin and broke into film along with him.Oliver Hardy was an oversized, unusually graceful American. Born in Georgia in 1892, Ollie studied music and broke into early film in the East before moving to Los Angeles and being teamed with Laurel by Hal Roach Studios supervising director Leo McCarey (“Duck Soup”). As they say, it was a bowler-hatted match made in comedy heaven.Stan was the sweet-souled, easily upset man-child, while Ollie was the big, angry, pompous bully, who looked oddly like an enormous baby. “Stan & Ollie,” which was directed by Jon S. Baird (“Filth”) and written by Jeff Pope, who co-wrote “Philomena” with Steve Coogan, co-stars Manchester, England-born Coogan and American John C. Reilly, who has had a great run recently and triumphs here, as Stan and Ollie. Continue reading