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One of the bloodiest episodes in British history, the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819, where government-backed cavalry charged into a peaceful crowd of 80,000 that gathered in Manchester, England to demand democratic reform.
Rolling StoneFull Review Above Average At 154 minutes, the film gets bogged down in rhetoric. But Leigh's visceral staging, especially in the climactic moments — brilliantly shot by his longtime collaborator/cinematographer Dick Pope — brings home the significance of a 200-year-old bloodbath that still speaks urgently to the disenfranchised.
Rex ReedFull Review Average This is a movie that's back-loaded to the extreme: all of its action takes place in the last 20 minutes. Not that Leigh would ever be confused with Tarantino, but it would have been considerably more engaging to have started with the main event and moved backwards to how we got there.
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Traumatized by the Battle of Waterloo, a young soldier, Joseph, returns to his loving but poor mill-working family in Manchester. The victor of Waterloo, Wellington, is handsomely rewarded in Parliament, and his subordinate, General Byng, is appointed to deal with unrest in the North of England. Post war, working people suffer unemployment, bad harvests, and restrictions on corn imports. They have no vote, and popular pro-franchise meetings are held by moderate radicals and more extreme firebrands. Joseph, his father and his brother attend these, but his mother is skeptical. The Manchester magistrates impose severe punishments, local and government spies abound, and in London the Home Office intercepts mail. The Prince Regent is attacked in public, so Parliament suspends citizen's rights. Lancashire radicals Bamford and Healey return home from the capital, enthusing about the famous orator Henry Hunt, whom they suggest be invited to address a proposed mass demonstration at St. Peter's Field. This plan takes hold, Female Reformers join and momentum builds. Whilst the brutal anti-radical local yeomanry prepare their weapons, leading young radicals are imprisoned.