Film Review: PrideDisarming true-life tale of gay activists who lend their support to a community of striking Welsh miners during the Thatcher era. A marketing challenge, but word of mouth should be strong.
Nearly a decade after Kinky Boots proved that a black drag queen could bond with a community of working-class Northampton blokes (and save their shoe factory, to boot), along comes Pride, another fact-based British movie about the clash of LGBT and proletarian cultures. But this tale has more than footwear and factories on its mind; it’s also about the politics of the time and how sometimes a mutual interest in social justice can make for unexpected (but not literal) bedfellows.
A real crowd-pleaser, Pride is perfect for this new era of broad, largely uncontroversial acceptance of gays and lesbians. But that wasn't so in 1984, the year in which this story takes place. Margaret Thatcher is playing hardball against the striking National Union of Mineworkers, whose families are facing terrible hardships. Mark, a young gay activist in London, believes his community should take a stand against the miners' oppression and forms a new organization, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. (At first, that small group includes only one lesbian.) They decide to pinpoint their efforts by raising money for the miners in the small Welsh village of Onilwyn, and that's where the culture collision begins—both predictable and occasionally surprising.
Stephen Beresford's script often paints in broad strokes ("Old people say the darnedest things!") and the homophobic villains of the piece are strictly one-dimensional, but it offers a large ensemble of characters—both gay and straight—who are very likeable indeed. Four British veterans are top-billed: Bill Nighy as a taciturn Welshman who proves unexpectedly sympathetic; Imelda Staunton as the feistiest and most supportive of the villagers; Paddy Considine as a Welsh miner who's never met a gay before but deeply appreciates their largesse; and Dominic West, cast against type, as the most flamboyant of the activists. But the film is also a showcase for many younger actors: among them, Ben Schnetzer as the crusading Mark; Andrew Scott as a gay Welshman living in London who's been estranged from his mother for years; Jessica Gunning as a sensible and outspoken Welsh housewife and mother destined for greater things; Faye Marsay as that lone lesbian in the activists’ group; and George MacKay as a student who hides his sexuality and his newfound activism from his parents.
Most of these characters and plot strands are well fleshed out over the course of two hours, and the nervous interaction and eventual friendliness between these two wildly disparate communities is generally handled with truthfulness and taste. But what truly gives the movie its potency is the real-life impact of the risks both sides took in deciding to cooperate: an authentic solidarity that ultimately brought landmark changes to the labor and LGBT movements in Britain. And the postscripts recounting what happened to some of the people portrayed here offer surprises both amazing and poignant.
Renowned theatre director Matthew Warchus (God of Carnage, Matilda the Musical) keeps the tone cheerful and lively and ably handles his big ensemble. Though the younger players have more screen time, it’s vets Nighy and Staunton who take the prize for the film’s most memorable and touching scene, a quiet discussion at a kitchen table that proves these unworldly Welsh villagers have more in common with the changing times than we might have suspected.
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