Ah Thatcher’s Britain. It produced many things and many ill feelings. It divided towns, families and individuals and left a mark that would change the course of British politics forever. But amongst the ravages of communities that it left in its wake, it also produced the most unlikely of alliances that forms the true story of Pride.
It’s the summer of 1984 and the miner’s strike is in full force across the country and dominating the news headlines. It is also the day of the Gay Pride march in London and a group of young lesbian and gay activists take to the streets with their homemade banners, picking up naïve and closeted Joe (George MacKay) along the way and taking him under their wings. Their (un-appointed) leader of the group Mark (Ben Schnetzer) sees the story of the miner’s strike on TV before joining his friends and makes the snap decision to collect money for the miners as they march the streets. From this initial act, a seed grows and Mark decides to start a support group, the LGSM (Lesbian and Gays support the Miners) but the idea is met with opposition on both sides, from some who have had mental and physical abuse from miners back home and from the miner’s union who feared about being associated with gay activists in the public eye. Undeterred Mark and his loyal group collect money for the cause but no union seems to want to openly take their support. So the activists try a new tactic and decide to take their collection instead directly to one of the areas affected by the strike and they end up in a small mining village in Wales. The narrative stage is then set for culture clashes, hostility, challenging views but also finding support and friendship in the most unexpected place.
Where Pride succeeds is in its ability to walk the line between economically led drama and rousing comedy, much like its easiest comparisons The Full Monty, Brassed Off and Billy Elliott. One moment you are giggling in your seat, and by the next scene you are wiping a tear from your eye as the film does not shy away from the dark side to sugar coat the story. These were harsh times where homophobia was rife, the threat of AIDS was scaring the nation (who could forgot the stark tombstone AIDS advert that terrified the already paranoid, which is included in a scene)and the result of the miner’s strike was a raw and devastating outcome. It is testament to director Matthew Warchus and screenwriter Stephen Beresford that amongst the harrowing conflicts, there is warmth and bursts of humour that are needed but never feel too forced.
The film is filled with wonderful performances and though is jam packed with characters; it still finds time to draw nuances from its actors to make rounded people rather than stereotypes. Ben Schnetzer delivers a striking performance that should see him become a big star, an activist who wants to fight injustice at every corner but whose future hangs with an uncertain edge. George MacKay is the venerable heart of the film as Joe, a shy boy who hides his sexuality from his parents whilst he begins to discover who he wants to be; at times he is like an adorable Wallace & Gromit creation come to life. Dominic West is the obligatory scene stealer as a flamboyant actor with a passion for disco dancing however he doesn’t veer into camp caricature and carries a level of pathos to his performance. Meanwhile the trio of Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton are as reliable as ever in their perfectly judged respective roles. The soundtrack is a perfect distillation of the period and will guarantee much toe tapping in the audience and the attention to detail creates instant nostalgia for those of a certain generation.
Pride is a film that unashamedly wears its hearts on its sleeve and if you accept and embrace this, you should prepare to run the gauntlet of emotions. Sadly it is ever relevant in these modern times where prejudice and poverty has destroyed towns still echo in our society, but despite the heartache, it still produces that swell of sentiment inside that comes from bloody beautiful British heart-warming cinema at its best.