It says a lot about the British that they love to fondly remember the Great War and its 888,246 dead by making a jolly knees-up-to-do out of singing ‘It’s A Long Way to Tipperary’ in pubs and heroizing one of the greatest wartime defeats in their history by celebrating ‘that Dunkirk spirit.’ This time there’s a sort of giggly apotheosis at hand in this fine bit of comedy fluff set in the midst of the British miners’ strike of 1984-85—an event which is still bitter in memory for many people of a certain age because the quality of life it eviscerated for some has never been retired. Nevertheless, as with Billy Elliot, another film about a strike, you will leave the movie theater feeling good.
Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus, is a fictionalized account of how a group of volunteer gay and lesbian activists from 1984 London feel a sudden kinship for the miners union after the prime-minister, Margaret Thatcher, attempted to crush them. Full of honor, bravado and honest-to-goodness empathy for the miners unions, temporarily sidelining their own political battles to raise funds for the striking workers and their families, they get all socialist and radicalized.
One activist in particular, Mark Ashton, a charismatic young chap played by Ben Schnetzer, who, just as he’s ready to blow off some steam at the 1984 Gay Pride march, is captivated by a television news item about the miners’ plight, picks a random Welsh coal mining town, Onllwyn, off a map to raise funds for. This prompts the miners union to send its rep (Paddy Considine), to get the money. Dai then arrives in London to pick up the bounty without initially understanding that these benefactors don’t really share very much in common with him.
What’s really interesting here is not just the way Queer activists come to an understanding over a common purpose, it’s the way the relationships are written so well. Mark’s eventual lover, Joe, played with an apt, warm subtlety by George McKay, is clueless about a culture he’s been raised too stoically to participate in. Joe is not in a state of crisis about being gay, but he’s way too starchy and ‘normal’ to admit just how utterly excited he is by the parade and the new openness going on all around him. The AIDS crisis may be ready and waiting, but Joe has barely even dipped his toe in the water yet.
And so when he is offered the custodianship of a banner in the pride march which shouts “QUEERS: better blatant than latent!” he refuses. “The thing is,” he explains to another London suburbanite, “I’m from Bromley!”
He’s not in denial of being gay; he’s in denial of joy! But it’s already too late. He meets Mark and they’re soon traveling as fellow activists on a minibus to Wales quicker than you can say “homo erectus!” In Onllwyn, the penny, as the English say, drops slowly for the locals, but they are nevertheless tentatively welcomed by Dai, Hefina (the wonderful Imelda Staunton of Vera Drake fame and Cliff (Bill Nighy), who run things locally.
The hilarity and scintillating repartée run thick and fast as gay and straight trade barbs, but it’s all blessedly sweet-spirited as mutual mistrust reigns only temporarily. Stephen Beresford’s script is dryly funny without ever resorting to mean-spiritedness. Staunton’s performance as a nosy biddy is an absolute scenery-chewing showstopper. Nighy is the same old Bill Nighy and they are a fine old match for one another.
The rest of the film concentrates on the hard-core socialist, hard-scrabble-living workers of the picket line in the Welsh village of Onllwyn, in parallel with their stolid stiff-upper-lipped allies: a small committed group of gay and lesbian fund-raisers who marched the streets of London, begging buckets in hand, collecting money and supplies for the miners. By the end we learn that members of LGSM — Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners — have remained friends and allies ever since. This is a true story, we are told. Funnily enough, the common enemy then, Thatcherism, has never died, either. Indeed, Thatcher and Reagan seem to have somehow morphed into heroes for people of all classes who long for the old days of status quo when the poor, blacks, foreigners and homosexuals were all passive and hiding out. Hilarious as it often is, seen in the morbid grey light of the present, Pride is a must-see.