The Miner’s Strike of 1984. Members of London’s gay community realise that they have much in common with the miners: they’re both vilified by Thatcher’s government, the police and the front pages of the tabloids. The miner’s unions refuse to accept the money that the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) have collected, so instead they travel to the mining village of Onllwyn to help the families first-hand. Reluctant to accept money from the colourfully dressed gays, the people of Onllwyn are eventually won over by LGSM’s members. At a time when Britain had never been so turbulent or divisive, two poles apart communities end up forming firm friendships and fighting each other’s battles.
Films “based on a true story” have been drowning in money over the last few years. They’re a safe bet, audiences happily paying to see real-life David and Goliath exploits. Pride is another film based on real events, but what makes it an arguably modern-day classic is how assured it is, the mix of comedy, drama and heart-breaking moments all perfectly handled.
There are some big names amongst the cast of Pride, actors immediately recognised both here and over in the US; Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine, all putting on spookily convincing Welsh accents. Nighy is a one-note actor, the quirky English gent, but he has always played that note amazingly well. Here, Nighy gets a bit more to do as quiet, weary committee member Cliff, who is feeling the struggle of the long fight against Thatcher. It’s not until he befriends the gays that Cliff gets his gusto back, fighting not just for his village, but his new-found comrades. Staunton is given the routine role of feisty Welsh pensioner, but she gets more than her fair share of culture clash one-liners. Considine, famous for playing morose, psychologically complex characters (Dead Man’s Shoes, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher) plays Dai, a friendly, gentle soul and one of the key players on Onllwyn’s committee. Dai is an uncomplicated man when it comes to right and wrong, Considine relishing the stirring speeches he is given, dialogue that is down-to-earth and genuine; you don’t feel like you’re being cynically forced to cheer for the underdogs.
The younger cast is equally as good as the established British actors, even if not all of them get the screen time they deserve. Ben Schnetzer, as Pride’s main character, gay activist Mark, firmly holds your attention. There’s a touch of arrogance to him, but he’s unwavering about fighting the good fight, refusing to give up. Mark’s passion and enthusiasm keeps up the pace virtually throughout Pride; it can’t fail to rub off on everyone who watches it. George MacKay is the hard-not-to-feel-for Joe, a twenty-year-old struggling with the realisation he is gay. Joining the LGSM (Joe’s parents think he’s on a college cookery course), they help him to be proud of who he is rather than keep his sexuality hidden (any remotely suspect reading material is hidden in Joe’s room), and his transformation is gradual and convincingly fleshed out. Stars of British television Dominic West (The Hour, Appropriate Adult) and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Blackout) play a couple who run the book shop that acts as LGSM’s headquarters. West and Scott are polar opposites, yet that’s what makes the strong bond they have so believable. West is flamboyant, speaking his mind, and has no issues in letting everyone know he’s gay. Scott plays Gethin, a Welshman from North Wales who left for London after his family turned their backs on him when he came out. Gethin is introverted, he doesn’t dress like the rest of LGSM, and he has a temper that gets him into trouble. West and Scott couldn’t be more different, yet it’s the glances and smiles they give each other, holding hands, chatting in bed, the things that all couples do, that make them charming to watch.
Sadly, some of the young characters are thinly written. The only reason Freddie Fox’s Jeff is in the film is so the Welsh children can braid his hair. Also, the lesbians – with the exception of Faye Marsay’s Steph – feel like they’re light relief rather than fully developed characters; they’re the butt of several jokes when they decide to form their own separatist group to help the miners.
These are tiny faults in an otherwise superb script from Stephen Beresford. There are one-liners a-plenty here and not just the obvious working class miners meet the gays jokes you would expect (“The only problem we’ve got that they haven’t is Mary Whitehouse”, Mark argues, “and that’s only a matter of time.”). The trailer for Pride was misleading in that it made the film look like it was portraying the Miner’s Strike as a jolly old knees-up. Instead, Beresford refuses to shy away from just how much the strikes and pit closures crippled mining communities like Onllwyn: two or three families living under one roof because they couldn’t afford to pay bills; police seeing the miners as “little people”; the miners being literally starved back into work. Beresford also writes several scenes that highlight the spread of AIDS and the misconceptions surrounding the virus in the early eighties. In one of Pride’s most heart-breaking scenes one of the characters meets up with an ex at a nightclub. Instead of a heavy-handed monologue accompanied by an emotional score, the ex tearfully says, “I’m doing the farewell tour.” You instantly know what this means and you cannot fail to start welling up. Beresford has written dozens of scripts for theatre, which explains why the melting pot of comedy, drama and punch-to-the-gut tragedy all neatly links in, scene after scene, and why most of the characters, despite such a large cast, feel like individuals, instead of being by-the-numbers.
You could pick apart Pride if you wanted to. While the hardships of the miners is far from toned down, I thought more could have been shown, such as the police’s behaviour towards the miners (which Arthur Skargill once likened to a “Latin American state”), and the number of ghost towns and villages that were dotted around Wales after the pit closures. It’s a tough balance as Pride’s agenda is to give audiences an uplifting and feel-good film. If the script was crammed full of political idealism and activism, only a small number of cinema-goers could stomach it. Pride finds a just-about happy medium.
Very few films can manage the feat of discussing heavy subjects such as politics, activism, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, bigotry, trade unionists, and so, so much more and have you cry cheerful, emotional tears by the time the credits come up. This is one of the many reasons why Pride is the equal of British heavyweights such as Brassed Off, The Full Monty and Billy Elliott.
4 out of 5