Pride (September 12, 2014)
Filmmakers spend years coming up with uplifting, feel-good stories full of heroes despite themselves; characters with the capacity for change and just the right mix of humour and pathos.
There are so many of these films that they tend to feel clichéd and formulaic, even when ‘based on’ true events.
Pride, about a group of gay activists who help a mining village survive the 1984 strike, suffers from that formulaic, ‘too good to be true’ feeling despite being 80% true.
In his film debut, theatre director Matthew Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford (theatre’s The Last of the Haussman’s) succeed in making a hugely entertaining film, but the comedy is so broad and the drama is often so emphatic, that the story feels more familiar than it ought to.
Still, there is no getting around it. Pride is a poignant and rousing celebration of how the macho, rural miners came together with a group of London-based gay and Lesbians over their shared oppression to combat prejudice.
The film is book-ended by the annual Gay Pride Parade, beginning in 1984 and ending an eventful year later with the individual lives of a loveable group of gay and Lesbians and an entire mineworker’s lodge, changed for the better.
Just after the 1984 parade, 23-year-old Irish activist Mark Ashton (American newcomer Ben Schnetzer, excellent) connects the news reports of the police targeting the striking miners with the reduced police presence at the recent parade. Police oppression links the disparate groups and gives birth to the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group and campaign.
The LGSM’s face a dual challenge: they must convince the gay community that the generally intolerant, homophobic miners are worth supporting, and, ironically, they have to find a group of miners willing to accept their charity.
The National Union of Mineworkers shuns the potentially embarrassing publicity, but one individual lodge in the Dulais Valley take the bait. They send their diplomatic representative Dai (Paddy Considine) to introduce himself at a hostile gay nightclub. He is truly great, and wins their hearts.
In turn, the village’s Strike Committee, lead by forthright, outspoken Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and her sensitive, retiring Welfare Committee member Cliff (Bill Nighy) and mother-of-two Sian (Jessica Gunning), invite the gays to Wales. Although Sian’s husband asks her to keep a low profile as they are new to town, she emerges as the brainiest and most committed activist.
In an effective series of vignettes we are shown how, after several visits between London and Wales over the year, the bond between the village and the gays strengthens.
There is wonderful scene in which real-life character Jonathan Blake (Dominic West) breaks the ice with a sexy dance number to the song, Shame, Shame, Shame, shaking up the sedate hall with his charisma and sex appeal.
In contrast, there is a tender, beautifully directed and acted scene in which Imelda Staunton’s Hefina lets Bill Nighy’s Cliff confess a secret that she already guessed.
It is not all smooth sailing, however. One stubborn widow tips off the right-wing press to her village’s collaboration with the LGSM group. When the right-wing paper comes up with the headline Pits and Perverts, the creative Mark tells his group to embrace the insult and they stage a huge, integrated Pits and Perverts fundraiser at the Electric Ballroom in Camden.
It is only at the end, when a cavalcade of National Union of Mineworker buses from all over Wales arrives at the 1985 Gay Pride parade that we realise the significance of the GLSM’s achievement. And most of this, such as the fact that gay rights became enshrined in the Labour and Trade Unions’ manifestos, or that Sian James went onto become an MP for Wales, is signalled by captions, not drama. The National Union’s support did not happen overnight, but the film ignores all that is happening in the background that prompted this significant change of policy. When a film is this interesting and 80% factual, there’s a part of you that longs for an outright documentary.
In their desire to cater to the broadest possible audience, the filmmakers pass over the political sphere for an array of sentimental individual stories that diffuse the film’s focus. Joe (George MacKay) is a closet gay from a conservative suburban family who finds himself thanks to the LGSM group. This story is similar to that of Gethin (Andrew Scott), a real character who became estranged from his Welsh mother because of his sexual orientation but is inspired by Hefina to visit her.
The laughter and tears are inherent in the material and the filmmakers take full advantage of it, often at the expense of subtly. The older Welsh ladies’ fascination with the gays and lesbian lifestyle leads to some patronising humour (they are all vegetarians, ha, ha). The line, ‘Guys, the Gays have arrived’ is funny the first time, but not the second.
by Joyce Glasser, Mature Times film reviewer