UK (2014) Dir. Matthew Warchus
In 1979 a Tory Government was voted into power in the UK under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher who made many promises to bring a change of fortune for the country. This she did but not in the way many had envisioned, especially those in the mining industry.
By 1984 many pits had been shut down but the National Union Of Mine Workers (NUM), headed by Arthur Scargill, continued to fight and the legendary Miners’ Strikes began. In London, the gay community were fighting their own battles against oppression and discrimination, with one young lad Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) noticing a similarity between their cause and the miners.
Mark encourages his fellow activists to raise funds for the miners and receives a good response – except many mining communities refuse to accept the pink pound. Marc eventually finds a grateful recipient in Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine), union leader of the miners in the small Welsh village of Dulais. Marc and the rest of the Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners (LGSM) campaigners to visit Dulais but not everyone is so welcoming.
Pride is based on a true story and as you may have gathered doesn’t focus too much on the political foundations on which it was built, instead looks at the persecution of the gay community even when they are extending their hand in solidarity to an equally vilified group. The title could refer to the way the LGSM persevered in the face of prejudice or it could be misguided sophistry for the resistance of those miners who find it hard to accept a hand out from “those perverts”.
There is a subplot to further illustrate this problem of bigotry and lack of tolerance and understanding towards homosexuality in the form of Joe Cooper (George MacKay), who no his 20th birthday heads into London to try out his new camera and gets caught up in a gay Pride march. After returning to a post match party with Marc and his partner Mike Jackson (Joe Gilgun) Joe finds himself recruited into the newly formed LGSM and becomes their official photographer.
However Joe doesn’t tell his parents any of this, claiming he is on a pasty chef’s college course whenever he is with the LGSM, hiding his photos and other evidence inside of books and the like. He is not alone as Gethin (Andrew Scott), a Welsh lad has moved to London to hide his homosexuality from his family. He now runs a gay bookshop with his partner Jonathan Blake (Dominic West) and is the one who put the LGSM onto the Welsh miners’ plight.
Screenplay writer Stephen Beresford and director Matthew Warchus have the unenviable task of presenting us a story with many important themes and not appear didactic or overly preachy. On occasion the message of solidarity is rammed home pretty hard to the point it almost becomes a cheesy slogan more than a meaningful lesson, while the homophobia is simply depicted as the divisive issue it is.
Presumably rushed the central part of the story deals with the eroding resistance to the LGSM and how they win over the folk of Dulais, enriching their lives as much as the acceptance they received in return does. Among the welcoming locals is housewife Siân James (Jessica Gunning), who has since become a Welsh MP and activist Hefina Headon (Imelda Staunton), who died just as filming began.
Perhaps rather typically the clashing of these two cultures is played out with gentle humour, succumbing to some of the expectant cheap jokes but relies on more subtle and precise takes on the situation, at least while in the village. When the Welsh visit London for the Pits & Perverts charity concert and hit the gay nightclub scene, the gags write themselves as they already have in the minds of the viewer, but are executed with such aplomb from the game cast that one can’t help but laugh along.
The final act, now set in 1985, takes a very serious turn as the AIDS epidemic was beginning to take hold on a wide scale, with Jonathan Blake being among the first men in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. He just celebrated his 65th birthday while Mark Ashton was less fortunate, succumbing to this awful disease aged just 26 in 1987.
It has been admitted by both Beresford and Warchus that this film is a comedy-drama and not a documentary, thus they handle this with sensitivity and portray the sufferers with grace and dignity while reminding us, just as most of the film does, how far we have come since then in our understanding of AIDS.
Credit goes to the cast too, a mixture of old and new faces from the best of the current British acting scene. There is an interesting dynamic here – the ever reliable Imelda Staunton plays the sort of tough old cookie she is known for while Bill Nighy goes against type as the taciturn and meek union leader Cliff Barry. Similarly seeing the normally serious Dominic West in such a flamboyant role is almost disorientating but he sees to have fun with it.
George MacKay is perfectly pitched as youngster Joe while Ben Schnetzer brings plenty of energy and charisma as Mark. The Welsh ladies are quite funny in their interaction with the LGSM, especially Gwen, played with immense clueless charm by Menna Trussler, who trades witticisms with her vegetarian lesbians, fronted by gobby Steph (Faye Marsay).
While many of us would prefer to forget the Thatcher years, Pride reminds us of the oft touted solidarity the universal disdain towards her created without being overly political. It occasionally veers a little closely towards cheesy drama territory but on the whole manages to stay on the road to becoming the warm and charming feel good movie it aspires to be.