Posts Tagged ‘Mike Leigh’

“PETERLOO” My rating: C

154 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” is less a film drama than it is an illustrated history lesson.

That’s a problem.

Leigh, who always has had a thing for life’s underdogs, here turns his attention to a notorious bit of British history. The 1819 massacre at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, England, found His Majesty’s sword-waving cavalry riding into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators protesting for political reform.

The violence doesn’t rear its ugly head until late in this 2-hour, 33-minute effort.  Most of Leigh’s screenplay is devoted to eavesdropping on  a dozen or so characters who represent various attitudes and political viewpoints in the months before the bloody incident.

Thus we follow a shellshocked trumpeter from the Battle of Waterloo (David Moorst) who returns home to Manchester to find jobs are scare and respect for a former soldier nonexistent. We sit in on long, talky meetings in which various agitators rail against miserable working conditions, low pay, and  a political/economic system designed to grind the country’s have-nots into the ground while enriching the altready-haves.

(Karl Marx was only a year old at the time, but he undoubtedly grew up aware of the the Manchester massacre.)

We witness a mother and wife haggling over the price of a few eggs with which to feed her family. We observe men slaving in a steam-driven textile factory where one misstep can mean a crushed limb. And  journalists debating how to convey to the common reader what the government’s suspension of habeas corpus means to the individual.


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Timothy Spall in "Mr. Turner"

Timothy Spall in “Mr. Turner”

“MR. TURNER”  My rating: B+

150 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Though Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” centers on the great English painter J.M.W. Turner, it isn’t really a conventional biography of an artist.

Nor does it offer much insight into the process of painting. Only rarely do we see Turner — brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall — with a brush in his hand.

And there’s no plot to speak of…not all that unusual when you consider that Leigh makes his movies after months of collaborative improvisation with his players.

Best to think of “Mr. Turner” as a time machine, a vehicle for transporting us to another era and so completely capturing the feel of the place that you’d swear you can smell the oil paint and the sea air.

The film concentrates on the last years in Turner’s life.  By this time (from the late 1840s to his death in 1851), Turner has been widely recognized as one of the great artists of the day. He specializes in seascapes, but his style is so radically impressionistic as to border on the abstract. His work alienates many (there’s a scene of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewing a Turner canvas and concluding that the artist must be going blind or mad), yet among his fellow artists he is regarded as a genius.

Genius he may be.  As a human being, this Turner leaves something to be desired.

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