The LGBT community have never really had a mainstream fun film. Sure, there have been films that have represented their orientation. As much as Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Birdcage received critical acclaim, they were either too serious, too depressing, to polarizing or borderline slapstick. There have been superior historical bios dealing with same sex sexuality including Boys Don’t Cry, Milk and Kinsey, but again the seriousness of the subject character overshadowed the pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction that embodied the main character.
In comes Pride, the new film from director Matthew Warchus best known for his 2009 Tony Award for Broadway’s God of Carnage. The setting is Britain 1984 during the miner’s strike and the battle against English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The strike was led by the National Union of Mineworkers after the government revealed the intention to close 70 separate coal mines which would affect the jobs of some 20,000 coal miners. With the strike lasting almost a full year, the miners and their families suffered financial poverty and ruin. Pride tells the story of a group of lesbians and homosexuals that banded together to collect money and help support a small town affected by the government shutdown.
As you can expect, a room full of homosexuals and miners is a recipe akin to Coke-A-Cola and Mentos. But Warchus, based on a screenplay by Stephen Beresford, is able to mix the perfect blend of tension, comedy and historical reference which catapults Pride into a wonderful crowd-pleaser that illicited a standing ovation at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Familiar faces abound in Pride including the always underrated Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Underworld), Imedla Staunton (Vera Drake, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows) and Dominic West (HBO’s The Wire, 300). But their celebrity is muted against an engrossing story whose message is ‘solidarity’.
Not everyone however was on board with support from the lesbian and gay community and this evil presence and the struggles against the opposed provide the conflict through most of the film.
Pride does maintain the authenticity of the times including its use of new-wave music (and the terrible fashions that accompanied it) and small references to the AIDS epidemic that was just beginning to gain media momentum.
The final chapters of Pride take us a full year from its opening and there were equal tears and cheers in the crowd as miners and their lesbian and gay show their support of each other. It was a touching moment that showcases a piece of history that most of us were unaware and it is the type of Hollywood magic that restores our faith in the humanity and compassion of all ilks of people no matter how diverse.
But as much as these films had critical appraisals, they were either depressing, polarizing or audaciously ludicrous (in a good way!).
In 1984 Britain, a ragtag band of activists from London’s queer community form an unlikely, anti-Thatcherite alliance with striking Welsh miners, in this hilarious and inspirational comedy-drama.
Margaret Thatcher’s hard rule over 1980s Britain prompted much political action in response. Perhaps the most amazing response of all occurred when Welsh coal miners and London lesbians and gays found a common cause. Pride tells the story of that unlikely alliance; it was never obvious, but it sure looks like fun.
By 1984, new-wave music had taken over the clubs, Thatcher’s government was battling mining unions, and London’s queer communities were perfecting artful activism. Into that mix walks Mark (Ben Schnetzer). Out, proud, and always ready for a righteous battle, he can’t accept that any one form of oppression should outrank another. Overcoming the reluctance of his ragtag band of friends — who would mostly rather party than protest — he brings them together to form Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. But do the miners want this kind of support?
Pride is at its most outrageously funny when the LGSM activists crash into small-town South Wales in their brightly painted communal bus. Imelda Staunton is wonderful here as the hard-working Welsh woman whose support group holds the community together, while Paddy Considine plays a forward-thinking union organizer and the inimitable Bill Nighy takes a subtle role as the local pub historian. Their encounters with the misfits and rabble-rousers who make up the LGSM give Pride its comedy and its heart. Some in the mining village have to get over their homophobia. Some of the gay activists have to get over themselves. Brits excel at this kind of comedy of integration, and director Matthew Warchus’s film is one of the best examples. With its recapturing of the glorious British eighties — not unlike the American sixties with its mix of protest, new music, and smashed social norms — Pride shows how exciting it was to be young then. And with its smart, nuanced understanding of the ongoing LGBTQ struggle, it affirms the power of movies to tell a transformational story.