Monday, 27 October 2014
FILM REVIEW: PRIDE
Ten years before a bus christened Priscilla carried two drag queens and a transexual from the safety of inner Sydney into the Australian outback, another bus full of queers undertook a similarly potentially fraught journey: from London into the Welsh mining community of Onllwyn.
The year was 1984 and Britain's coal miners were on strike against the conservative Thatcher government's plans to close coal pits across the country. Recognising a similarly oppressed community, a band of gay and lesbian activists, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, decided to throw their small but passionate support behind the striking miners, raising funds and organising food drives. Strange bedfellows to be sure but then again, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no?
That is the basis for Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus and penned by first-time screenwriter, Stephen Beresford; a none-too-subtle but wholly sincere retelling of those events which had almost been lost to the public consciousness. Indeed, many of the cast, and Beresford himself, have admitted in interviews that they'd never heard of LGSM and their involvement in those tumultuous events of 1984-85.
Led by young radical, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer, unrecognizable from last year's The Book Thief), and viewed through the eyes of the closeted Joe (George MacKay), who lives at home with his parents and, and aged 20, is still considered a minor in the eyes of the law when it comes to the homosexual act, we watch this band of idealistic misfits – including Jonathan (Dominic West), a middle-aged actor and one of the first people in Britain to be diagnosed with AIDS; and Steph (Faye Marsay), initially the only woman contributing the 'L' in LGSM) – rally in support of the strikers.
It's when they decide to take their fundraising directly to the source (the Unions refusing to accept the donations once they hear who it's from), that events take an unlikely turn. After first meeting in London with Dai ((Paddy Considine), a representative of the pit from the Welsh village of Onllwyn, the troop pack in to a small bus and head to Wales to accept the invitation of thanks extended by the Dulais Valley community centre.
But not everyone in this small, working class community is happy to welcome these outsiders, despised as much for being from London as they are for being 'homosexualists'. And while the local men, excepting Dai and club secretary Cliff (Bill Nighy, affecting in a rare subdued performance), keep their distance, it's the town's womenfolk – led by the headstrong Hefina (Imelda Staunton), the inquisitive Gwen (Menna Trussler), and young firebrand, Sian (Jessica Gunning) – who embrace their out-of-town supporters.
Of course, Rome wasn't built in a day and the relationship between the Onllwyn community and LGSM experiences many ups and downs (some factual, some as part of necessary dramatic license) over the course of their almost 12-month-long struggle. The London media gets wind of the oddball coupling, dubbing them 'Perverts for Pits', with LGSM embracing the term like so many derogatory names the gay movement has reclaimed before them (the miners not so much). There's also personal issues to be dealt with within each community.
The film itself tackles many issues – gay rights, worker's right, coming out, AIDS, female empowerment – some of it cliche and not all of it with a light touch. But there is an honesty and a sincerity to both the comedy and the drama in Pride, which tonally sits somewhere between the sledgehammer feel-good of The Full Monty (1997) and the emotional authenticity of Billy Elliot (2000).
But it would take the hardest of hearts not to be won over by the film's charm. Make no mistake, Pride is a feel good film but in the best possible sense. It celebrates two communities coming together and moving forward; not through tolerance but acceptance and co-operation. A remembrance of victories passed, Pride may also serve as a rallying cry for battles still to be won.