Film Review: Shoplifters

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Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

15 | 2h 1min | Crime, Drama | 23 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★★

Humanistic, unforced and patient dissections of relationships are the stock in trade of Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda (Our Little Sister, Like Father, Like Son) and this new entry into his canon, a Cannes Palme d’Or winner, feels like a high water mark. It is a welcome new addition to what Kore-eda has called his ‘third phase’, where he focuses in more on the nature of family in modern Japan, questioning if familial bonds have the value culture and tradition has assigned to them, and teasing out the tensions that pull at the traditional mother/father structure. Shoplifters is a film that quietly asks provocative questions, but is never lacking for charm, well-earned poignancy, and even packs in a few twists.

The titular shopfliters are an engaging bunch, in large part thanks to superb casting choices and richly-drawn character dynamics (Kore-eda is also credited as the scrptwriter) that mostly play out in a charmingly cluttered and confined space. Osamu Shibata (the great Franky Lily, who also starred in Like Father, Like Son and is superb at playing irresolute ‘scammers’) is a Tokyo-based shoplifter par excellence, who ekes out a ramshackle but not necessarily unhappy existence in a tiny surbuban bungalow with his petty criminal ‘family’ unit. This mismatched unit is made up of Osamu as the patriarch and shoplifter-in-chief, his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando, a great foil to Lily as a more down-to-earth type), sex worker Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), teen boy Shota (Jyo Kairi), and the cheeky but world-weary ‘Grandmother’ who is played with much elegance by the legendary actress Kirin Kiri. I don’t usually pay too much attention to the production design of Kore-eda’s films, being more absorbed by the character drama, but the Shibata home really is a visual treat, being small and divided up by sliding panel doors in the Japanese fashion, but seemingly half the furniture and entire walls are built out of boxes and other pieces of junk gathered up by a lifetime of shoplifting. Watching these characters literally clamber over each and sometimes literally tripping over to negotiate such a cramped space provides a lot of comedy, but the house itself speaks to their characters and their relationships: messy, thrown together, colourful. Confining such diverse characters in one space (the living room is where most of the drama occurs) means plenty of opportunity for them to rub up against each other and expose the real secrets of the heart.

After a brief opening sequence where we see how good Osamu’s shoplifting game is (he and Shota have a well-established tag-team thing going on: one distracts, the other drops items into a well-placed bag), we are introduced to the element of change that disrupts this crime unit’s life, and starts a process by which more and more of our assumptions are disrupted. On their way back from another score, Osamu and Nobuyo discover a six year old girl - Juri (Sasaki Miyu) - in a bad state left home alone, and they decide to take her back to their dwelling. Osamu and Nobuyo are morally-aware enough to know the authorities will see this as kidnapping, but the bruises on the child’s body and the fact she wets the bed are classic symptoms of abuse, and give them a sense of moral justification to their law-breaking. But this seemingly impulsive act, and the fallout from it, start piling up some intriguing questions. Osamu and Nobuyo are not abusive to the girl, Nobuyo in particular is delicate with her, but Shota thinks nothing of starting to cheerily indoctrinate her into some of the basics of shoplifting: assigning her tasks suitable for her age and size, such as pulling out the power cords of door sensors so he can boost alarmed equipment. Shota is visibly uncomfortable with the girl being assigned to him on shoplifting raids, and what we initially think is just disgruntlement at a rookie girl being introduced into the mix is soon revealed to be a growing sense unease at the life of crime the children are being groomed for, with Shota no doubt seeing echoes of his own ‘rescuing’ in Juri. It turns out he isn’t really Osamu’s son, (there are hints of this before it is made clear, such as his refusal to use the term ‘dad’) and he is at an age where he is starting to question the moral framework Osamu has sold him (“nothing in the shop has an owner yet”) as well as the narrative of his own dramatic rescue. Was he really rescued out of a sense of duty by Osamu, or was he just a new recruit? When the boy starts to screw up various shoplifting raids, is it just teen rebellion, or a subconscious desire to get caught and end this life of criminality?

What Kore-Eda slowly builds for us is a fascinatingly nuanced portrait of a ‘family’ unit that is built not on the obligations of blood ties, but more on a cost-benefit analysis. As the film progresses, we learn more and more of the transactional relationships between the adults in the bungalow, and how what looks like a traditional family unit on the surface is instead more like a lifeboat for various members of the working class who have come together because they each provide something the other needs. Grandmother, for example, is quite possibly not related to any of the other characters at all despite how they refer to her, but her generous pension serves Osamu and Nobuyo well, and she is the legal owner of the house. But just when we start considering the idea that she is being ruthlessly exploited, we are shown how Grandmother is running her own scam; she regularly visits her dead husbands family in order to pay respects at his shrine and humbly pockets a substantial sympathy check every time. Barely is she out of her in-laws house when she is dropping the smiling humble granny act and flicking through the cash in the envelope. It is one of the funnier scenes in the film, but it leads us to wonder; if even Grandmother is running a scam, what does that imply about everyone else in the house? Are Osamu and Nobuyo even married? Is Aki really their older daughter, or another refugee? We have to build this complex picture from snatches of conversation both spoken to key characters and that that goes whispered behind their backs. A good deal remains guesswork until some startling last-act revelations.

And yet, as mismatched and misanthropic as this family of crime seem, and as problematic as it is to seemingly offer children a safe home in exchange for stealing, Kore-eda shows us that they all, fundamentally, get along. Shoplifting actually takes up little of the screen-time, with breathing space being given for us to soak up the day-to-day of mealtimes, beach trips, lovemaking and meals on the porch. There is good food on the table, laughter, play, and even Osamu and Nobuyo get to rekindle a long-dormant desire for sex. Whispered fragments from Juri suggest a terrifying and unhappy life of beatings and neglect, abuses she does not have to suffer anymore in Osamu’s house. Aki’s work depresses her, but she finds moments of comfort at night with Grandmother acting as her sounding board, and seems to be the one closest to her. In one of the film’s many grace notes, Grandmother herself is seen mouthing a quiet and unheard ‘thank you’ to the cluster of her ‘relatives’ as they splash about in the waters during a beach trip. It is thanks for the act of keeping her company during what could have been a lonely old age. Does it matter if the relationship to Osamu and the others is partly transactional? That is not to say Kore-eda’s film is endorsing kidnapping and robbery, but it seems to be he is asking if we need to be honest about how much familial bonds really count for, and if a more ruthless analysis of ‘what works for me’ might actually make for a more satisfying life. Maybe families would function better if we chose them.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Suspiria

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Director: Luca Guadagnino

18 | 2h 32min | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery | 16 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino's hotly-anticipated take on Dario Argento's colour-drenched 70s cult Giallo horror Suspiria runs a full hour longer than its predecessor and sports a notably different tone and set of subtexts, though the spine of the story remains identical. I can't deny Guadagnino's strange creature ( written by both him and screenwriter David Kajganich) has its moments of teeth-rattling, skin-crawling supernatural terror, and his film boasts a ghostly score from Tom Yorke and superlative (albeit muted) production design that more than adequately summons a potent mood of anxiety and dread in a wintry, Cold War-era Berlin.

As the trailers made clear, the film features some striking dance sequences that become seance-like in their mystery and intensity. Dakota Johnson does a decent job stepping into the role originally inhabited by Jessica Harper; that of young, unworldly but ambitious American dancer Susie Bannion, who manages to squeeze her way into the world-renowned Berlin dance school of one Helena Markos. Johnson makes Susie a potent physical presence, and one not entirely resistant to the growing supernatural presence she feels. Overseeing her is the sublimely vampiric figure of Tilda Swinton (probably the best thing in the film), who plays the unearthly senior dance instructor Madame Blanc. Sadly for Susie, this dance school, as it was in Argento's film, is in fact a cover for a coven of witches (who all occupy senior positions in the school), though exactly what they want with Susie, who they seem to sense as 'special', isn't clear. The dynamic between Swinton and Johnson's characters grows increasingly and intriguingly ambiguous; Blanc shifting between mothering, torturing and deceiving Susie whilst a hint of sexual tension hangs in the air.

But as impressed as I was by some of the more inventively gruesome moments Guadagnino conjures for the viewer, such as a dance piece Susie performs for Madame Blanc that (unbeknownst to Susie) causes the rebellious dancer Olga locked in the next dance hall to be mangled like a human Rubik's Cube courtesy of some weird voodoo-like enchantment, the film doesn't really justify that additional hour of running time. New Suspiria does have a lot on its mind, but the focus keeps darting about without all the pieces being connected to full effect. At times, Guadagnino's screenplay brings discourses of remakes and borrowing to the fore, the film self-reflexively commenting on its own transgressions onto the hallowed ground of a previous classic. Susie is, after all, taking the place of others dancers who have 'mysteriously vanished' from the school, and the challenging dances she is tasked to perform for Blanc are - at least at first - strictly not her own.

But then this thread seems to get dropped, to make way for a (very slow) drip feed of information about the true past history of the aged psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (bafflingly also played by Swinton, under 10 tonnes of latex), who comes in to the orbit of Susie due to his suspicions being aroused after witnessing the traumatic state of one of the dance students who had come to him for treatment. Klemperer's arc, which parallels Susie's but is packed with far less incident - never felt like it slotted into place so as to truly illuminate the goings on in the dance school (beyond more general sense that this is connected to the evils of the 20th century), even as the witchery does reach a suitably delirious crescendo by the final act, one that delivers far more on visceral thrills than it does any satisfying thematic punch. There are also infrequent mentions via TV news or newspaper headlines of the political whirlpools outside the school ground caused from by the real-life terrorism of the Badher-Meinhof group and pro-Palestinian airplane hijackings. Are these fuelling the witches' power, or vice versa?

Suspiria ultimately feels like a film with too many ideas in play, to the point where any sense of exhilaration and, dare I say it, fun, got shoved down the priority list.















Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Widows

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Director: Steve McQueen

15 | 2h 9min | Crime , Drama , Romance | 6 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) trades his icily elegant arthouse-minded fare for a team-up with co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to bring us Widows, a propulsive, exciting and intelligent genre piece that once again gives star Viola Davis a stage to showcase quality acting. The concept of Widows - that a group of four widowed women, whose dead husbands were all part of the same heist crew, would team up themselves to finish the last job in a desperate attempt to gain financial freedom - had me hungry for this film from the moment it was announced, being a huge fan of the sort of slickly constructed and thematically weighty urban crime sagas that Michael Mann once delivered with the likes of Heat. But credit should be given where credit is due, Widows might look like a sort of ‘female Heat’ but it actually a remake of the very popular British 80s TV series of the same name, which McQueen has admitted in interviews to being a huge fan of. But a remake of this kind now, in the #metoo era and with the financial crash still causing a major hangover, brings with it extra resonance.

I did not cast Widows, but if you had set me the task of doing so, Viola Davis would have been top of my list. She is perfect as Veronica, a downtown Chicago teacher’s union rep and the defacto leader of the quartet of widows-turned-heist crew, a role she is forced into when her career-criminal husband Harry (Liam Neeson) is killed along with his crew in the opening minutes of the film in, what must be said, a very thrilling action sequence largely shot from the back of Harry’s crew’s bullet-ridden getaway truck looking out at the mayhem behind them as they race on. Harry and Veronica enjoyed a comfortable middle class life, with Veronica seemingly knowing little about the precise details of Harry’s work (though she clearly knows he was crooked), but although Veronica has her own career, Harry’s death leaves her with an inherited ‘debt’ that has the side effect of pulling her into the murk of local city politics. The money Harry was seen boosting with his four man team in the film’s opening sequence was, in fact, the political war chest of Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), a local crime boss turned legit alderman candidate (alderman is a sort of powerful local council figure) determined to be the Chicago 18th district’s first black representative. Despite his desire to gain the kind of power and prestige that his white opponent James McCullen (Colin Farrell) has had since his birth into one of the city’s oldest political hegemonies, Jamal is still a guy from the streets, and lets Veronica know it by busting into her house and openly threatening her to return the same amount of stolen money in one month, no matter what. Problem is, Veronica doesn’t have that kind of money, and the original cash pile burned up in Harry’s van with his body.

With the emotional and physical stakes economically assembled for us, McQueen gets the female widows team on screen swiftly; and they have to be thrown together quickly because Veronica is running out of time. Davis is immensely watchable as a woman with her back to the wall who is just too intelligent and desperate to give into panic, even as her laser focus makes her an increasingly chilly figure. Armed with Harry’s old heist job notebook and enough savings to fund a small operation out of her husband’s old hideout, Veronica recruits fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) plus her broke babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to her ballsy attempt to plot and carry out the biggest heist Harry had started laying out in his notes. The fact Veronica’s recruitment pitch has an element of threat to it (Linda snorts that Veronica might sell their names to Manning if they refuse to sign up) is one of many signs that she is not a woman to be gotten in the way of. 

There is much else to chew on when it comes to the dynamics of the four women. Despite Belle also being black, she finds no natural ally in Veronica, who is immensely suspicious of her as she is both not the intended recruit for the getaway car driver role and not a paid-up ‘widow’. Alice is from a notably lower class than Veronica and was also caught in an abusive relationship with her husband, something that seems to rankle Veronica, who treats her dismissively and assumes she will fail any task set to her. All of the four female leads acquit themselves well, each bringing out an unexpected seam of resourcefulness or some surprising twist to their character, whether it is Rodriguez playing pleasingly against type as a world-weary pragmatist or Debicki showing flair for taking the nervy and pegged-as-white-trash Linda towards a place of growing confidence - even swagger - alongside skilfully delivering most of the few comedy beats that this otherwise grim film finds time for. What these mismatched women do have in common is both the cruel reality that their men left them little to nothing, and the ironic fact that they might benefit from no one thinking, as Veronica notes in a steely pep talk, that they have the balls to pull this off.

Watching these great actresses going about their burglary business and finding ways to get the key pieces of information they want is entertaining enough, but McQueen both surrounds them with a colourful cast of politicians, thugs and ambiguous friend/foe fence-sitters to spice things up, and laces their journey to full-blown heist crew with torn-from-the-headlines political commentary. Having Harry’s last job involved ripping off a major black political candidate means the stark reality of America’s rich-poor divide and the fallow from deeply embedded political corruption can form part of this version of Widow’s canvas quite smoothly, with enough attention given to these elements that they don’t feel like bolt-ons. Casting Colin Farrell as the outwardly slick but secretly troubled alderman shoe-in Jack Mulligan is a sensible move, as Farrell can do charmingly sleazy or sleazily charming in his sleep, but I was blown away by the chill factor radiated by rising star Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as Jamal’s sociopathith brother and chief fixer Jatemme. Like the rest of the characters that circle the women, neither Jack nor Jatemme are reduced to the one-dimensional, with Jack being shown behind closed doors to resent his elderly politico veteran father Tom’s unabashed racism and long history of corrupt dealings which now threatens to drag his son down, whilst Jatemme is rarely seen without a book or Spanish language audio training track even when he is setting up to deliver a beat-down. 

As for the setting of Chicago city, McQueen and DP Sean Bobbit perhaps best paint for us the desperation and divide that has set into the city’s bones when they execute a bravura single-take from the POV of the front of Jack Mulligan’s car as it cruises from Manning’s ratty HQ on the south side to Jack’s sumptuous redbrick five-bedroom; a short drive in that it takes mere minutes, but one that starkly takes us across the chasm between the run-down and the well-heeled. It is the kind of city where, as Veronica starkly puts it to her rookie team, you are on your own.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

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Director: Peter Jackson

15 | 1h 39min | Documentary , History , War | see 14-18 Now Website for screenings across London and UK
RATING: ★★★☆☆

On the centenary of the First World War, Academy Award-winner and Lord of the Rings maestro Peter Jackson finally presents his long-gestating project made in collaboration with both 14-18 Now and the Imperial War Museum: a new look at the First World War via a roughly chronological collage of colorised and revised archive footage of the men on the front lines. To be precise, it is specifically a look at the British Western Front in Europe, a region well-known in popular culture as cris-crossed with muddy trenches and sand bags, beyond which lay a murder zone of barbed wire and machine gun nests; ‘No Man’s Land’. Colorising past footage of wars is nothing new, but Jackson’s project is reaching very far back into film history with intent to effect such alterations, as well as making other changes.

They Shall not Grow Old actually begins very much with the kinds of monochrome clips we have long been used to as being our window into the filmic record of the First World War. For about fifteen minutes, as various audio recordings of reminiscing British veterans provide the soundtrack, we see the young men of Britain begin to mobilise for war back home. ‘Pal’s Battalions’ joining up from the same town, recruits complaining about overbearing military officers, plain-spoken unselfconscious statements about one’s certainty of victory with the might of the British empire behind them. More circumspect voices start to appear though: with some veterans recalling how it was a time ‘when men just did what they were told.’ This spread of voices, and the disarming frankness many evoke when describing the most horrific sights and sounds (and note the surprising lack of bitterness in many testimonials, despite the common belief that the war was widely regarded as ‘not worth it’), remains the strongest element of Jackson’s film, regardless of the visual trickery.

Then, as we are brought to the muddy fields of the Western Front and the first clashes between British and German troops, the frame expands outwards to widescreen, and the colours seep into what was monochrome footage. All the footage before hand is framed, clumsily in my view to suggest its ‘oldness’ and unfitness for purpose, in a scrappy 4:3 frame and backed by a fake whirring sound to emulate a classic film strip projector. Each frame of the film that follows colour was hand-colourised by Jackson’s team, the footage 3D-digitised, and transformed with modern post-production techniques. To see soldiers in this colorised pallette initially, after the eyes have been primed by exposure to monochrome for a quarter hour, is a jarring experience. At times, when a soldier is caught looking at the camera (even then people knew reality was being mediated- ‘it’s the pictures mate’ some shout) and the frame is sharp enough to see their eye colours and stubble on their face, the moment can serve as a reaffirmation of how people did not see the world in monochrome on those battlefields. Red splashes of blood (this film contains a surprising amount of footage of mangled corpses, both animal and human) also serve as a salutary reminder that people then bled like we do today no matter how much black and white might seem to remove them from what we know to be the realities of the things modern warfare can do to bodies. Colour or no colour, this footage is soberly compelling regardless because of what it so starkly shows; the painfully recognisable humanity and the incredible mechanical forces ranged against such humans. A transition from a laughing ‘Tommy’ hefting a French child in play to the staggering sight of a mine buried 20 feet down detonating upwards in a cyclone of earth is says it all. Then there are the rats, outside toilets that are just benches over shellholes, bodies sunk in mud. Notably absent from these arrays of horrors though are the views of women and soldiers of non-white descent on this carnage, the result of Jacksons’s very narrow focus.

For every moment I felt both lost in thinking; ’so that is what it must have looked like’, there was another where I felt distracted by a certain heavy-handedness in reinterpreting the footage. The colorisation, combined with strange warping effects that presumably come from adjusting the frame rates and maybe even artificially inserting some to create a 24fps mimicry, makes the footage look more like an animated film or rotoscope effort at times. Often the colour palettes fails to appear that distant from the kinds of wistful war posters I have seen. The use of sound effects I had mixed feelings about too. The First World War was, of course, not filmed with synchronised sound. Audiences seeing this footage would not have heard shell thumps or soldiers muttering to each other, or screams of pain. Jackson has, through various methods that range from dubbing, to foley and lip readings, given this film a ‘real’ soundtrack. Certainly this allows an evocation of the inferno of the fighting, particular the sheer wall of sound that a barrage creates (when a soldier describes in voiceover his increasing terror as incoming shell screams in, a sonic demonstration certainly adds punch) but I found the dialogue often out of sync with lips, and the idea of a modern actor 'speaking for' a dead person a little uncanny valley. Overall, the effects of Jackson’s interventions into archive material are often startling, and sometimes very transporting and moving, but in my view this film is best approached as more of a well-intentioned artistic reinterpretation of ‘what it must have been like to be there’ than a restoration or a true document.  If it spurs sober reflection, an interest in going back to the original footage, and sales of serious books about the First World War, They Shall Not Grow Old will have served its purpose.



Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Peterloo

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Director: Mike Leigh

12A | 2h 34min | Drama , History | 2 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Director Mike Leigh turns his attention once again to the toiling working classes of England, except this time they are in revolt and bloodshed is in the offing. Sprawled across a broader canvas than usual and with a sense of the epic, Peterloo is a handsomely mounted tale that reconstructs, from various viewpoints, the events surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre at St Peter’s Field in Manchester, where a rally demanding universal suffrage (for men at least) and an end to punitive corn laws that prevented cheap imports of essentials, turned into a massacre at the hands of local military forces. It is a sincere, serious minded, and even angry film that feels squarely aimed at this decade’s austerity politics. Though it is one of biggest, it is not Leigh’s best, however.

Large in scope and ambition thought may be, Peterloo doesn’t attempt anything new in its narrative approach; taking things slowly in chronological fashion with time spent with both ‘sides’ of the debate. We glide at various points back and forth between the perspectives of a politically-awakened and dirt poor Manchester family subsisting in a run-down terraced house under the guardianship of pragmatic matriarch Nellie (Maxine Peake), the oratorically brilliant but arrogantly elitist suffrage campaigner Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) and the effete and callous judges and constables of Manchester who sniff revolution in the air and plot to provoke and undermine the rally that they know is coming. We even drop in at the offices of a liberal Manchester newspaper which doubles up as a campaign meeting point for various figures in the suffrage movement; and those viewers who know their history will recognise this as the birth pangs of the Guardian newspaper. Women campaigners get a look in too and, when the rally turns bloody, many women fall alongside the menfolk. Left unmentioned by the film, with its documentary-like approach, is the wider ramifications of the bloodletting and the later reforms that did become concrete reality.

Leigh’s film is comprehensive in its scope, and the stakes and demands of all sides are clearly put forward so no viewer who has never heard of ‘corn laws’ will be leave the cinema any doubt of why these two sides are lining up against each other, but this requires a substantial amount of exposition which works against the naturalistic performances that Leigh is famous for getting out of his casts with his own unique rehearsal approach. Leigh’s script, which he wrote himself, also draws in broad brushstrokes, with some of the villainous politicians and lawmakers being so cartoonish I was wondering where the twirling moustaches were, whilst the working class folk are true salt ‘o the earth’ types. Tim Mcinnerny is so over the top as the Prince Regent it was as if he had been instructed to go back to his old Blackadder days. In the end, what really appealed to me about Peterloo, beyond the historical lesson that I was effectively given, was the superbly rich production design and art department work from Suzie Davies and Jane Brodie that effectively lays out for us the gulf between the rich and poor’s worlds from Manchester to London and from royal courts to workhouses, whilst giving a nice sense of there being grit under everyones’s fingernails (the scenes featuring old looms and printing presses were a particular delight). Leigh’s regular DP, Dick Pope, gives the proceedings an appropriately painterly feel.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.