Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, George MacKay, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Faye Marsay, Jessica Gunning Director: Marcus Warchus
I'm a Welsh gay film fan, so a movie about gays and Welsh people was always going to be up my street... but then saying that, I'm not the biggest fan of a British "heart-warming" family romp. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I find the fluffier sides of The Full Monty or Billy Elliott far too saccharine sweet, while The Calendar Girls is just unbearable. But there's something different about Pride.Yes it bears the hallmarks of the life-affirming "community comedy", and we all know that through the community coming together and overcoming prejudices everyone will live happily ever after, but this is a feel-good comedy that, ten years ago, would have been an edgy and risqué indie flick. In the year that the UK legalised same sex marriage, the topic of homosexuality has become so family-friendly and so non-taboo that this film feels like a rubber-stamp of absolute acceptance and tolerance. And I, like the rest of the cinema-viewing public, came out grinning from ear to ear.
During a Pride march in 1984, Mark (Schnetzer) realises that the battle for Gay Rights isn't that dissimilar from the striking miners' battle against the government. Establishing the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), he and his friends begin to raise money for their cause, choosing a small Welsh mining community as the recipients of their donations. Travelling to the village to show their support, the group are met with initial hostility, though there are those who are simply thankful for their support. Taken in by villagers (Nighy, Staunton, Considine and Gunning), the group attempt to overcome the local prejudices by showing them that if you fight for one person's Rights, you must fight for them all. Meanwhile, Gethin (Scott) attempts to face his mother's rejection, while his partner (West) refuses to tone himself down for the village. And Romley (MacKay) attempts to hide his involvement with the group entirely from his homophobic family. This group of militant homosexuals are blatantly familiar from historic accounts and other depictions of Gay Rights activists from the time. With its figurehead refusing to accept prejudice from the world, believing in everyone's duty to stand up for themselves and their sexuality, this role is played with equal parts resilience to dogged and frustrating determination. Newcomer Schnetzer appears like a time capsule transported directly from the 80s, while the rest of his group are cast perfectly as the ragtag gaggle of revolutionary activists who fight for others rather than themselves. Marsay and MacKay are the heart of the film, but it's Andrew Scott who shines the brightest, reluctantly dragged along a journey that becomes much greater than his own personal plight.
The village is a remarkably realistic depiction of a community, leaning on each other, but limping toward their collective ruin. Though there are stand-outs (Nighy and Staunton are both superb) it's their depiction of a whole community that succeeds the most. Throughout the story there are nay-sayers and detractors, those who let politics run away with them and those whose pride won't allow them to accept help. Though there are many whose opinion changes by the end of the film, there are still those whose flat refusal to accept help from the "perverts" cannot and do not change. Though Pride depicts a display of tolerance at a time of remarkable intolerance, this is by no means unanimous, even by the time the credits roll. It's this realism that grounds the film as more than just a "happily-ever-after" two hour chortle. Most realistic of all is the film's portrayal of the miner's strike. Though it has been tackled on screen before, the depiction of the sheer desperation that the workers and their families fall to has never been portrayed more vividly. They come together in solidarity with one another because they simply have no choice, with whole families without food, without heat or any money at all. As time passes, though the town begins to disintegrate, the community does not, but then neither does much of the inherent prejudice still lingering in the more stoic members of their community. Though you see many people come around to their unlikely supporters, even desperation cannot turn others against their bigotry.
Though there have been many films to portray activist groups, what sets Pride apart is its depiction of a wholly altruistic faction who are campaigning entirely for someone other than themselves. Though they are on the receiving end of as much, if not more, hostility from society and the police as the people they are supporting, they refuse to give in, even though half of these people won't even accept their help. This groups of "perverts" and "deviants" are heroes in the most archetypal and purest definition of the word. They fight for a cause they do not have to fight for and refuse to accept failure. The film is uproariously funny, with the ensemble bouncing off each other like an all-Welsh ping-pong match. But for every moment of humour there is as effect a moment of poignancy, depicting two contrasting communities who are both desperate for help and support. Though there is very little mention of Christianity in the film, the LGSM appear as the most Christian and Christ-like group that I've seen on screen in years. They're undeniably human, but saint-like and brave. Maybe it's because I identify with them so much, but as we are shown their backstories and individual plotlines, none of them feel arbitrary or overdone. With HIV, family rejection and reconciliation becoming major parts of the over-arching storyline, it feels like a gay compendium of the 1980s, without it becoming alienating for the rest of the audience, nor the miners' side of the story. Somehow, Pride juggles two wholly separate communities' issues, histories and characters without ever feeling forced or rushed where most would struggle with just one. The script is tight, the acting on point and it's the perfect example of how the real Gay Agenda is to have no agenda at all. It proves just how much homosexuality can be a non-issue, both in its depictions on screen and the existence of the film full stop.
Available to download, stream and buy on DVD.