September 10, 2014 Leave a comment
It’s 1984, and Mark (Ben Schnetzer), Mike (Joseph Gilgun), Steph (Faye Marsay), Jeff (Freddie Fox) and Joe (George Mckay) have descended on London for Gay Pride. From their base of operations at Gethin (Andrew Scott) and Jonathan’s (Dominic West) LGBT book shop, they decide to this year campaign not for themselves but for the striking miners in Wales. Naming themselves Lesbians and Gays Support Miners, they set out in search of a community willing to accept their support. Having made arrangements with Dai (Paddy Considine), they head west to Onllwyn to meet some of the people worst hit by Thatcher’s Tory government. While the town council — including Hefina (Imelda Staunton), Cliff (Bill Nighy) and Sian (Jessica Gunning) — are happy to see them, however, they have a harder time convincing the miners to accept their offer of not just assistance but friendship.
There have been many unlikely political pairings in British history — the current coalition government for one, and the Green Party’s recent alliance with the Scottish Yes campaign for another — but easily the most unexpected has to be the real-life alliance of gay activists with the Welsh mining unions. What’s perhaps most remarkable about the story of Mark Ashton and his 80s cause — Lesbians and Gays Support Minors — is not that it happened but that we’re only hearing about it now. Now largely forgotten, the relationship nevertheless had wide-reaching consequences for both sides, changing the lives of not only the individuals involved but contributing to a larger change as well. This is a film about solidarity, about collaboration and putting others before yourself. And it couldn’t be more timely.
Of course, being a British film with home-grown “issues” at its heart, there was every chance that Matthew Warchus’ film could have been unbearable. It might easily have been patronising, preachy, or sentimental, and ran the very real risk of alienating people on both sides — not just homosexuals and blue-collar workers, but the Welsh and the English too. As it happens, however, Pride does no such thing. It’s fun and funny, but not at the expense of the drama, while the film manages to address HIV and media-lead hate campaigns without letting them unbalance the narrative or compromise the tone. After a surprisingly successful evening at the local working men’s club, a man is asked by his wife if he was really expecting there to be a scene: “sometimes”, he admits, “people surprise you”. As does British cinema.
The cast are flawless throughout — thesps and newcomers alike are clearly determined to do the incredible story justice. Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy (the latter reviving his accent from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) bring incredible warmth and dignity to the town council, while Jessica Gunning almost runs away with the movie as their newest no-nonsense member, Sian. Each has their own comic moments, but you are never invited to laugh at them because they are Welsh, though their language’s lack of vowels isn’t above comment. Even then, however, the Welsh language is behind one of the film’s most emotional scenes, as exiled Welsh expat Gethin is wished Merry Christmas in his native tongue for the first time in years. Andrew Scott, like everyone else, is excellent.
The characters with the most pronounced arcs, however, hail from London — or, in the case of leader Mark, from Ireland. Dominic West’s Jonathan has become disillusioned with activism, Faye Marsay’s Steph is caught between causes and George McKay’s Joe is in the closet and lying to his parents. It’s another impressive performance from McKay, who has already made something of a name for himself as a daring actor with diverse turns in last year’s hat-trick of How I Live Now, For Those In Peril and Sunshine on Leith. There are some great supporting performances too, from Harry Potter‘s Jessie Cave and The Three Musketeers‘ Freddie Fox. The film ultimately belongs to Ben Schnetzer, however, last seen as Max Vandenburg in The Book Thief, though you’ll never recognise him as the same actor. He’s effervescent, and when he disappears somewhat abruptly in the third act the film is poorer for it.
Pride isn’t perfect; it’s a little long, there are maybe too many characters and does lack a consistent pace but the story is so compelling that you forgive it the occasional lull. Released within days of the Scottish referendum, the film should give everyone an opportunity to celebrate the United Kingdom and its remarkable shared history while they still can.