Pride is British feel-good drama at its very best, featuring one of the strongest ensemble casts of the year. It is not only an inspiring and important film about the fight for equality and how strength in numbers amongst multiple marginalised groups has the potential to change a nation’s values, but it’s also full of frequent humour and irresistible energy. Coupled with the charm is an ever-present feeling of substantiality in its exploration of the period and the heroes that made such an unlikely union possible. Written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus, Pride has understandably been internationally celebrated, including winning the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Pride is based on true events, depicting a London group of smart and determined gay and lesbian activists, led by Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer, The Riot Club), who raised money to help families affected by the 1984 British miner’s strike. The nation-wide Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) campaign was spawned from this, but the National Union of Mineworkers was reluctant to accept donations due to their concern about being publicly associated with a gay group. The LGSM decided to take their donations directly to Onllwyn, a small mining town in Wales, where their generosity was welcomed by their union spokesperson Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine, The World’s End). After overcoming initial conflicts with the community at large, friendships begin to forge and the alliance began to raise publicity.
What Pride does so well is blend many individual stories into this collective mission. The POV is thoughtfully shifted throughout the film, and a lot of different issues are explored through the experiences of people on both sides. The film is bookended by Joe (played by a real talent in George McKay, For Those in Peril, Sunshine on Leith), a photographically gifted 20-year-old struggling to come out in the homophobic social landscape, but compelled to become an activist. The film’s middle stretch – when the LGSM decide to persevere with their collections and attempt to forge a connection with the Onllwyn community – is focused predominantly on the other group members and in particular Mark and his partner Mike (Joe Gilgun, This is England). But, the key citizens of Onllwyn – Hefina (Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake), Cliff (Bill Nighy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Sian (Jessica Gunning) included – are also given lots of attention.
There is a ceaselessly happy and uplifting vibe to the entire film, and it is an absolute joy to watch. The film’s dramatic developments are tragic and the finale is incredibly moving, but the film is brimming with that genuine feel-good charm and energy. Beresford’s script, covering a 12-month period in considerable depth (though it does skim over some of the darker times) is so sharp and punchy that the film’s runtime zips by. Warchus is a renowned theatre director, and he has drawn spectacular performances from the entire cast. He brilliantly uses montage, incorporating the terrific 80’s soundtrack, which pumps throughout.
McKay’s character, Joe is one of the fictional characters written for the film, and he acts as a way in for the audience. There would have been a lot of young men like Joe at this time – and his involvement with the LGSM takes us from the inspiration for the conception all the way through to the rousing 1985 London Gay Pride March. The cast, including MacKay is across-the-board fantastic.
Schnetzer received a nomination for his performance at the British Independent Film Awards. He could have comfortably carried this film alone, but the generous screenplay shares the stories around. This guy is very good. The incomparable Staunton is brilliant as always, while Considine continues to be a consistently dignified screen presence. Dai’s generosity, kindness and courage is one of the film’s most heartwarming features, and Considine is perfectly cast. Dominic West (TV’s The Wire) appears as a flamboyant actor named Jonathan Blake and steals many scenes – including a wonderful solo dance sequence around the mining hall. Jonathan’s partner Gethin (played by Andrew Scott, TV’s Sherlock) is the owner of a bookstore where LGSM set up a base. His return to Wales, where he grew up but feels ostracized from, is one of many powerful moments.
Pride received a controversial R-rating in the United States, but this is an important and inspiring film that contains no content that warrants such a rating. Thankfully, it received an M-rating here in Australian so it can be seen by the audience it deserves.
I have been basking in the feel good-ness of Pride since I saw it almost a week ago. No one is talking about the film as a potential Best Picture nominee. But why not?
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Matthew Warchus
Writer(s): Stephen Beresford
Starring: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Ben Schnetzer
Release date(s): Australia: October 30, 2014