Sentimental without being drippy, rollicking and rousing without being over-the-top, Pride (directed by Matthew Warchus) is the epitome of a feel good movie. With its bopping soundtrack of 1980s pop hits, sweeping camera, and bright colours – there’s even a fabulous dance number – the film remains buoyant throughout even as it tackles tough issues and hard times. Based on actual events, Pride tells the story of a group of London gay and lesbian activists who, in the middle of the 1984 UK miner’s strike, banded together – calling themselves Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (L.G.S.M.) – to raise funds, in buckets on street-corners, to support the striking miners.
Rather than donating to the miner’s union, L.G.S.M. decides to give the money they raise directly to the miners by picking a town in need at random. That lucky town is Onllwyn in southern Wales, and L.G.S.M. manages to be their largest supporters, garnering them an invitation to be guests of the town. They roll into town in a red-and-orange VW van, with “Out Loud Theatre Group” scrawled on it, and they’re a breath of fresh air in a town that’s beginning to lose hope. And meeting the townspeople energizes L.G.S.M. to redouble their efforts: they’ve helped, but they haven’t helped enough.
At first glance, the miners and the lesbians and gays are an unlikely pairing, which skeptics in the LGBTQ group who grew up in mining towns are quick to point out: an industry that values conventional masculinity and is conducted largely in small towns is likely to be rampant with homophobes. Many of them can attest to this first-hand, having been beaten up repeatedly by those miners. But the group’s leader and founder, Mark (Ben Schnetzer, also of The Riot Club), a bright-eyed man in his early twenties, sees a deeper connection: they share common enemies in the harassing police and the denigrating tabloids. Simply put, they’re both oppressed groups, and the way Mark sees it, they’re stronger together. He’s absolutely right. It’s precisely the same premise as the UN’s recent He for She campaign, which brings men and women together in the fight for gender equality.
Even those in the LGBTQ community who are sympathetic to the cause wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to support the miners without labeling that support as coming from gays and lesbians. But that misses the point. The film’s title doesn’t just refer to LGBTQ pride, but a more universally resonant definition: it’s about having the courage and confidence to be unabashedly who you are and still demand to be treated with respect. What brings the L.G.S.M. together is the fact that they’re not heterosexuals. To hide that would be tantamount to suggesting that the miners pretend that they are being paid fair wages. The strike, at its core, is about pride.
In Onllwyn, L.G.S.M. is still met with some initial resistance, mostly from the young lads who feel like their masculinity is being threatened by these intruders, but it doesn’t take much to break down most barriers. L.G.S.M. spends their first night sharing the floor in the living room of the leader of the striking miner’s, Dai (Paddy Considine), who shares Mark’s vision for fighting all oppression. It takes some time to find other willing hosts in the town. Once Jonathan (Dominic West), the group’s oldest member, kills it on the dance floor, and uses his own first-hand knowledge of what constitutes a legal holding after arrest to get some local boys out of jail, he gets much of the town on their side.
The culture clash between the small town and the flamboyant outsiders is the main source of comedy in the film: the biggest question on one elderly woman’s mind is whether all lesbians really are vegetarians. The L.G.S.M. spark a new candour about sexuality, which is especially funny among a group of middle-aged ladies.
The older generation in Onllwyn, it turns out, is actually the more open-minded and welcoming one. They’re easy to like, and that’s not just because the major players are played by great English actors, including Paddy Considine and Imelda Staunton. Chris (Bill Nighy playing wonderfully against type) may be unable to bring himself to even say the words “lesbian and gay” at the start, but his quiet reserve is something he hides behind and learns to crawl out of.
And what so many of the L.G.S.M. need is a bit of maternal or paternal affection. They may be Londoners now, but the variety of accents in the group tells a story of exile: most were forced to move away from their close-minded families to the more liberal London. When Jonathan’s partner, Giffin (Andrew Scott) arrives in Onllwyn, it’s the first time he’s been in his homeland of Wales in over a decade. The compassion and warmth of the feisty Hefina (a terrific Imelda Staunton), the miner’s committee leader, when she receives him, is what brings tears to his eyes as he declares, “I’m in Wales! And I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not!” He’s getting back a long-lost piece of his identity as a Welshman.
Throughout the film, we watch the characters find strength and drive through being a part of something bigger than themselves. Twenty-year-old Joe (George Mackay) arrives on the scene as a reluctant participant in the Gay Pride Parade, but before long he gets swept up in the L.G.S.M., which sparks many changes in his life: he gains confidence and stops slouching, he gets his first kiss, and he comes out to his parents. The ride isn’t smooth – it’s often heartbreaking – but the drive to help others keeps him going and helps him to cope. Meanwhile, Steph (Faye Marsay), the first, and for a while only, lesbian in the group, is under pressure from the other lesbians to break off into a lesbian only miners’ support group in the name of feminism – they seem to have missed the point of banding together.
The danger in an ensemble film like this is that it could become trite, an “issues” movie, where the characters are merely types. Yes, each of the members of L.G.S.M. represent different stages and parts of the gay experience or the mining town experience – whether that’s struggling with AIDS, coming out, or figuring out how to be an emancipated miner’s wife – but they’re never types. Instead, each is very much an individual, often fighting against a stereotype. The only real misstep is that the biggest bigot of Onllwyn is a pure villain, whose haircut alone signals she’s bad news.
Warchus effectively balances the personal and the political by pairing big group scenes with smaller, more intimate moments. When Giffin first waves goodbye to the L.G.S.M. on their way to Onllwyn, the camera lingers on him for a few seconds as he starts to clean off hateful graffiti from his window. And at a major fundraising event, the camera pulls back from Mark’s inspirational speech to reveal the small ways certain characters have been personally and positively affected by the partnership between the miners and the L.G.S.M.
It takes some time for Pride to build its momentum, to make you care deeply about its characters, but by the halfway point, you’re there. If their hearts break, so do ours. But their triumphs are also ours. When, as a sign of reciprocated solidarity, the miners come by the busload to march in the 1985 Gay Pride Parade in London alongside the L.G.S.M., you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved.