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Film Reviews: Peterloo, Slaughterhouse Rulez and Black Mother

Massacre: Peterloo depicts the events of St Peter’s Field almost 200 years ago



(12A) ★★★★✩

MIKE LEIGH does modern real life better than arguably any of his British director peers — his most acclaimed films have been contemporary social comedies such as High Hopes and Life Is Sweet. But he’s just as capable when he turns the clock back, as he proves with Peterloo, the heartbreaking story of a massacre in Manchester in 1819. Stricken by famine and unemployment, locals staged a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Field. Magistrates sent in an armed cavalry. Hundreds were injured and 15 killed, including children.

It’s a horrific and under-reported part of British history, and the knowledge of what is to come hangs over the film’s early scenes as Leigh systematically sets up the key characters of the denouement. These include left-wing orator Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), magistrate Rev Etlhelson (Vincent Franklin) and mother Nellie (Maxine Peake), who can barely feed her children but is told the rally will be a lovely day out. All put in terrific performances and Peake’s small role feels like the heart of the film — a loving woman whose family is paying the price for a parliament that’s cruelly neglecting its people.

True to Mike Leigh form, no one is glamorised for the big screen. Skin is ruddy and characters’ teeth look as bad as one imagines they might have been. This feels like an authentic period drama. Leigh manages moments of his trademark humour, thanks to Hunt’s vanity, but this is a grim tale and it’s told over the course of 154 long minutes. The ending is as upsetting as you might expect and the message is deeply relevant to today. This is not Leigh’s most diverting film but it is his most political.

The verdict

A sobering history lesson, this is meticulously made — but you may not wish to watch it again.

Slaughterhouse Rulez

(15) ★★★✩✩

THIS may be the first anti-fracking boarding-school monster horror to hit cinemas but it has plenty of familiar elements. A working-class boy ends up in a world of posh blokes (so far, so Kingsman), which turns into a terrifying experience involving Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (see Edgar Wright movies). A girl catches his eye but she’s out of his league (any teen film).

Finn Cole is likeable as leading lad Wallace, while Pegg is fitfully amusing as nervy housemaster Meredith, pining after his lost love. Said girlfriend is played via Skype by Margot Robbie, with Michael Sheen as the imperious headmaster. Frost hams it up as a protester/drug dealer camped near the fracking site on the school grounds.

Every cliché is an intentional parody but while there’s enough suspense and humour to pass the time, this isn’t as clever as previous Pegg/Frost/Wright classics such as Shaun Of The Dead.

Black Mother

(15) ★★★★✩

‘YOUNG people don’t have any manners,’ bemoans an older woman in Black Mother. It goes to show some things don’t change whatever the country or era. This hypnotic documentary drops in on fascinating locations and characters in Jamaica, with snapshots of lives that come with both challenges and joy.

The startling beginning sees a domineering man negotiating with a madam to hire street girls; by the end we are witnessing both death and new life in funeral and birth scenes. Voice recordings wash over the visuals without always corresponding — this is a mood piece more than a traditional doc but it’s no less educational.

You’re left with a portrait of a Jamaica that’s full of life, music, struggle, sexuality, patriarchy, religion, and all the contradictions that involves. It’s a quality film that enriches understanding of a culture in an unconventional way and will offer more on a second viewing.