4 November 2018 | Pjtaylor-96-138044
Flat characters, flat camera-work and a flat-out fantastic final act.
Make no mistake, the atmosphere of 'Peterloo (2018)' is simply stunning, with phenomenal set-design and costuming combining with expert acting and often impressively rural vistas to immerse you in Britain of 1819. The flick feels lacking in the narrative department, though, mainly when it comes to the attachment we have with its proceedings beyond a surface - and, in a way, historical - level. This is because there are a copious amount of characters who don't really have any character, aside from their political views and the way in which they voice them - often through verbose, long-winded and, frankly, sometimes dull (though also sometimes rousing) speeches. The players whom initially seem to be the focus, or become the focus for an extended period of time, tend to fall by the wayside for incredibly long stretches, too; they don't actually have all that much screen-time and often blend together or come out of nowhere mid-way through ( which is an issue perfectly encapsulated by the sheer number of cast members and the fact that they're often credited as a name followed by a descriptor, i.e. 'Tuke, The Painter'). This makes for an experience that lacks a driving force (indeed, I'd be hard-pressed to name the protagonist, even if I had to) and, thus, lacks a sense of story, a sense that this tale had to be told in film form as opposed to being written in a history book. There's also an absence of empathy with any of the people on screen, other than in their function as people (whom, in essence, really existed) that we will (or, rather, should) naturally sympathise with - especially when they suffer. In many ways, the experience seems to get lost within its self. It's clearly a political message, which is fine, but it tends to serve this function far more than it does retell a real-life tragedy in any real depth. It often appears to use its historical founding as a way to push its specific message - perhaps even massaging the truth to do so, though I don't know if this is the case or how accurate the feature is in general. In the process, though, it fails to provide proper nuance and also follows a strange structure simply so that its focal event, portrayed in a jarringly invigorating and appropriately frustrating final act, can be placed at the end of proceedings to mitigate the sense that it led on to anything other than death. This is a move which feels as though it is aching to draw blank parallels to today (as does the rest of the affair) but doesn't really do so, in a macro way, because we have the knowledge that the eponymous event, as unjust and vexing as it truly is, was arguably the first step in achieving the reform that the flick spends so much time talking about and, even if it wasn't, that that reform would still eventually come. It's not like the film is ever particularly boring, per se, just that it isn't as focused or as engaging as it could have been. The camera-work is usually restrained and the editing is sometimes straight-up bizarre, holding on shots of background characters as they watch others talk (whilst barely reacting) for minutes at a time. That's not to say I don't admire unconventional cutting, rather that the editing is often distracting and takes focus away from what you want to be looking at. This mainly occurs during the repetitive speeches, which are usually surprisingly watchable in spite of the way they're sometimes put together (perhaps in an attempt to vary them). They don't ultimately amount to much, though; they don't paint a picture of why the central incident occurred or serve to make us empathise with any of the characters. To be fair, for a two-and-a-half hour affair, the picture goes by pretty quickly. Despite that length, I wouldn't call it an 'epic', though. There's just an almost underwhelming feeling that nothing much has been achieved, that this story could've perhaps been better served. It's not bad, but it's not great. 6/10