Peterloo (film)

Peterloo is a 2018 British historical drama, written and directed by Mike Leigh, based on the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. The film was selected to be screened in the main competition section of the 75th Venice International Film Festival.[3][4] The film received its UK premiere on 17 October 2018, as part of the BFI London Film Festival, at HOME in Manchester.[5] The screening marked the first time that the festival had held a premiere outside London. Leigh said he was delighted that Peterloo would be premiered "where it happened".[6]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Leigh
Written byMike Leigh
Produced byGeorgina Lowe
CinematographyDick Pope
Edited byJon Gregory
Music byGary Yershon
Distributed byEntertainment One
Release date
  • 1 September 2018 (2018-09-01) (Venice)
  • 2 November 2018 (2018-11-02) (United Kingdom)
Running time
154 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$18 million
Box office$1.9 million[2]

It was released in the United Kingdom on 2 November 2018,[7] by Entertainment One and in the United States on 5 April 2019, by Amazon Studios.


The film Peterloo marks the 200th anniversary of the notorious Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 1819, a crowd of some 60,000 people from Manchester and surrounding towns gathered in St Peter's Fields to demand Parliamentary reform and an extension of voting rights. At that time, Manchester had no members of parliament of its own while the whole of Lancashire was represented by two county MPs.

The meeting had been peaceful but, in the attempt to arrest a leader of the meeting, the armed government militias panicked and charged upon the crowd. The toll of casualties has always been disputed but as many as 18 people were killed and up to 700 wounded. The immediate effect of the massacre was a crackdown on reform, as the government feared that the country was heading towards armed rebellion. The outcry led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian and played a significant role in the passage through Parliament of the Great Reform Act 13 years later.[8]


After the Battle of Waterloo, Joseph returns home from service in the Duke of Wellington's army to Manchester and his close-knit family headed by parents Joshua and Nellie. Joshua, son Robert, daughter Mary, and daughter-in-law Esther all earn a living by manual labour in a cotton mill. An economic depression makes work impossible for the traumatised Joseph to find and threatens the family's livelihood. The family is sympathetic to the radical campaigns for equal civil and political rights for all free men and against the Corn Laws that prevent them from buying cheaper imported grain. Joshua, Joseph, and Robert attend political meetings where local agitators including John Knight, Samuel Bamford and John Bagguley speak out against the system of government; Nellie attends a meeting of the Manchester Female Reform Society. The local authorities, led by magistrates Colonel Fletcher, Reverend William Robert Hay, Reverend Charles Ethelston and Mr. Norris and Deputy Chief Constable Nadin, spy on the radical movement and wait for an excuse to arrest its leaders. The Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, is determined to suppress radical politics. When a disgruntled Londoner smashes the window of the Prince Regent's coach, Sidmouth uses this as a pretext for suspending habeas corpus.

Bamford and his friend Joseph Healey travel south to London to hear the famous radical Henry 'Orator' Hunt speak at a political meeting. Hunt has a reputation for vanity but Bamford persuades Manchester businessman Joseph Johnson to invite Hunt to address a mass meeting at St Peter's Fields; the Home Office discovers this invitation by intercepting Johnson's letter. Arriving at Manchester, Hunt goes into hiding in Johnson's home. Richards, a Home Office spy, is able to provoke Bagguley and fellow radicals Drummond and Johnston into publicly calling for armed insurrection, leading to their arrest and imprisonment. The magistrates plan to suppress Hunt's meeting and make an example of the attendees using the local mounted militia, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry and a regular army detachment led by General John Byng. Hunt remains certain that he can lead a peaceful rally and sidelines Bamford, when he warns of the likelihood of brutal treatment by the authorities.

On the day of the meeting, thousands of people march into Manchester from the surrounding towns to hear Hunt speak at St Peter's Fields, including Nellie and Joshua and their family. Bamford leads a procession from Middleton but leaves in disgust on finding that it has been arranged that only Hunt will be allowed to address the crowd. A special committee of magistrates has been assembled to take charge of events, chaired by Mr. Hulton. They appear to be in an upstairs room over-looking the gathering crowd. Norris, who urges restraint at least until any rioting might start, is overruled. Byng has left his deputy in command of the soldiers, to attend a genteel horse racing meet.

Once Hunt begins to speak, Reverend Ethelston reads the Riot Act to the crowd. Although the crowd pays no attention to Ethelston, the magistrates are now legally empowered to disperse the meeting. The Yeomanry cavalry assault the peaceful assembly with sabres drawn, while Hunt and Johnson are arrested by Nadin's men. The army tries to clear St Peter's Fields but in the mayhem, the crowd is unable to escape before several people are killed and many more injured. Joseph is wounded with a sabre and later dies. The attending reporters furiously return to their newspapers to expose this atrocity, coining a mocking name for it, "The Massacre of Peterloo". Despite the massacre, the Prince Regent sends his congratulations to the magistrates for suppressing radicalism and restoring "tranquility".



Filming began in May 2017.[11] Production shot the interior of the Tarred Yarn Store in Plymouth, Devon, England and the exterior of the Ropery at the Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent to double as a cotton mill in Manchester. St Mary's Marshes on the Isle of Grain also appears in a short scene at the beginning of the film, when a lonely figure is seen walking along the marshes.[12]

Much of the dialogue is in traditional Lancashire dialect. To achieve this, the director used the book The Dialects of South Lancashire, which was written by the same Samuel Bamford who is portrayed in the film.[13]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 66%, based on 154 reviews with an average rating of 6.44/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Peterloo proves writer-director Mike Leigh's populist anger remains undimmed – but that righteous fury occasionally overpowers the narrative."[14] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15] The New York Times called it a "brilliant and demanding film".[16]

The film obtained no BAFTA nominations, and in this regard The Guardian’s critic noted: "Peterloo marks a rare failure for Film4".[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Peterloo". Venice International Film Festival 2018. Venice Biennale. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  2. ^ "Peterloo (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  3. ^ Anderson, Ariston (25 July 2018). "Venice to Kick Off Awards Season With New Films From Coen Brothers, Luca Guadagnino and Alfonso Cuaron". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  4. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (25 July 2018). "Venice Film Festival Lineup: Heavy on Award Hopefuls, Netflix and Star Power". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Mike Leigh's Peterloo announced as first ever BFI London Film Festival premiere outside London". BFI. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  6. ^ Korsner, Jason (16 August 2018). "London Film Festival to premiere Mike Leigh's Peterloo drama – in Manchester". What's Worth Seeing... Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  7. ^ "'PETERLOO' Coming To Cinemas 2 November 2018". Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  8. ^ King, Ray (8 July 2017). "Mike Leigh starts shooting film about Peterloo massacre". I Love Manchester. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Peterloo first look: Mike Leigh's cudgel for a massacre - Sight & Sound". British Film Institute.
  10. ^ "Joseph Joins the Radicals in Stockport (1818)". Parson Harrison - Peterloo Reformer. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  11. ^ Thompson, Anne (17 May 2017). "Mike Leigh Starts Shooting 'Peterloo,' Amazon-backed Period Drama". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  12. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Peterloo Article".
  13. ^ Schindel, Daniel (4 July 2019). "Mike Leigh on Why His New Film About an 1819 Massacre Feels Eerily Relevant Today". Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  14. ^ "Peterloo (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Peterloo Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  16. ^ Scott, A. O. (4 April 2019). "'Peterloo' Review: Political Violence of the Past Mirrors the Present" – via
  17. ^ Catherine Shoard (9 January 2019). "Bafta nominations 2019: The Favourite is queen but Steve McQueen snubbed". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2019.

External linksEdit