NOT many people would give up a hot date in favour of Arthur Scargill, but that’s what young Mark Ashton (The Book Thief’s Ben Schnetzer) does.
Director: Matthew Warchus
Running time: 120 minutes
It’s the morning after the night before, and a young man is hovering in the doorway, hoping to confirm the start of a romantic relationship. But it’s 1984 and Scargill is on television talking about the miners’ struggle. Mark is hooked.
Worry not, this is not a paean to the brooding attractiveness of a union leader and his remarkable comb-over, but the true story of gay campaigners who decide to support the striking miners, and become their biggest fundraisers.
This helping hand is rebuffed at first, but Ashton and his activists resolve to take matters into their own hands by informally adopting the Dulais colliery in south Wales. What follows is an adult feel-good movie mined from a feel-bad age. It’s also two hours long, because it casts a wide net over a large cast including Imelda Staunton as a bossy community worker unafraid of large rubber sex toys, union man Dai (Paddy Considine) who gives the film two rousing and heartfelt speeches, Bill Nighy as a former pitworker interested in local history and poetry, and warmly maternal Sian (Jessica Gunning), a miner’s wife.
Pride is the second feature film from British theatre director Matthew Warchus, and he may not have time for movie-making now that he’s been appointed the new artistic director at London’s Old Vic. A pity, since Pride is a funny and touching movie. I especially liked its nuanced depiction of cloaked prejudice. Anti-gay attitudes are expressed as weasel words about “other people finding this difficult” or that “being gay is such an unhappy life”. Pride lightly reminds you how unpleasant anti-gay attitudes were in the 1980s. We can’t be complacent now either, but jokes made about the Aids panic are reproduced in the film, and time has not made them any less cruel.
Admittedly the movie does embrace cliché: many of the characters are based on real people but George MacKay plays one of the film’s fictions, a young closeted trainee chef whose suburban parents seem to come from a Fred Phelps sitcom. It also seems inevitable that at least one Welsh miner is going to admit he’s gay, although guessing which character will come out is fun. And when the activists arrive at Onllwyn’s social club, will a dance routine from Dominic West really help everyone overcome their tribal suspicions? It’s unlikely; but West’s shameless showboating is so gleeful that it works.
Nor does the culture clash always play out as expected. Instead of homing in on a miner’s fear of bright colours or hair product, the film’s Welsh scenes rest on the supportive bustle of the colliery womenfolk, and the bridge they initially provide between the gay activists and the mineworkers. The only lasting friction comes from one woman, who sets her face against welcoming this campervan of support, and is painted as cartoonishly villainous.
Still, the subversive power of the tale is undeniable. Pride depicts an interesting bit of history, but its real message is about two vilified and marginalised groups who discover comradeship, solidarity and Bronski Beat.