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PRIDE: a chat with the filmmakers

September 11, 2014

Film + EntertainmentInterview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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After premiering to praise and acclaim at the latest Cannes Film Festival back in May where it won the Queer Palm, British ensemble dramedy Pride finally arrives in UK cinemas this weekend. Based on the incredible and lost-in-history’s-cracks true story of the unlikely solidarity between the LGSM, a group of gay rights activists from London and the Welsh miners on strike in 1984, this is an outstanding, heart-warming and funny film that will inspire you and make you feel good about life. You can find my review on Candid’s film page.

I was part of a lovely and entertaining press roundtable with director Matthew Warchus and screenwriter Stephen Beresford who gave some interesting insight on the making of the film and also told a few funny anecdotes that were a delight to listen to. These two talented filmmakers both come from successful theatre careers with Tony Award winning Warchus having directed shows like Matilda: The Musical and God Of Carnage and playwright Beresford having written the National Theatre’s critical and commercial hit The Last of The Haussmans which starred Julie Walters in 2012.

The first inevitable question is about how they discovered this unbelievable true story and how they went about tackling the delicate tonal balance of the film which graciously blends in comedy and drama without ever feeling neither sentimental or artificial.

Stephen: The first time I heard the story I was having an argument with somebody, an argument that I imagined has replayed in gay bars across the world. I was being told that gay men of my age weren’t as political as older gay men. It was the 90s and they were right, I wasn’t politically engaged with something like the miners’ strikes since I didn’t have any reason to be. That’s when the person told me about LGSM and what they did in the mid-80s. In that instant I moved from an isolationist and individualist to someone who suddenly saw the world as full of possibilities for community and solidarity. That was very powerful and compelled me to bring this film to life.

I’ve known the story for 20 years but it was impossible to convince anyone to make this film. They thought we couldn’t bring in a commercial audience and suggested to do a radio play or a Channel 4 drama documentary. But what I wanted it to be is exactly what it’s turned into: a big mainstream feature film. In 2010 I had a meeting with producer David Livingstone, I told him the story and he commissioned the script so I started writing it in 2011.

The LGSM made a video called “Dancing in Dulais” that can be found online. There were no names on screen while everyone was interviewed but there was a thank you card at the end so I froze the frame and looked for any unusual names in it and cross-referenced them with Facebook until I found someone who had a name that was unique enough to track down. The rest is history.

Matthew: I didn’t know about the story either until I read the script. Like a lot of people I thought: “How could I not have heard of this?” There was a strong sense of responsibility when we started making the film and it was becoming a reality. Most of those people are still alive and I’ve been able to meet them in person. It sets the bar high when you feel you owe it to these people to properly and effectively re-tell their story. You don’t want to feel like you’re exploiting it in any way. Stephen made some changes to help the story to really deliver the impact and I was conscious of balancing that myself. Be authentic, be detailed, make it real and make it work without betraying anybody.

The tonal complexity of the film, mixing humour with serious topics is what attracted me to the material. My experience has taught me to just be truthful because life changes its tone all the time. There’s no point in trying to manipulate audiences since you really won’t know how they’ll react and when they’ll laugh until they actually see the film. If you try to meticulously organize all of that you end up with something that feels more like drama and less like life.

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Beresford has created an entirely fictional character for the film, Joe, a young and timid closeted boy, brilliantly played by George MacKay. It’s a great narrative device that carries the audience through the story. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the screenwriter had ever thought of using Mark Ashton, the leader of LGSM played by an outstanding Ben Schnetzer to serve that purpose.

Stephen: I’ve never really considered telling the story through Mark Ashton’s eyes because I’m interested in the oblique. I love E.M. Forster’s dictum: “Only what is seen sideways sinks deep”. I feel it’s very true. I’m interested in the sidelines, the other people. It could have never been about Mark because otherwise it would’ve been a very different story, a hero story, and those don’t interest me because I don’t think they’re very funny. I was much more interested in the boy who was staring at Mark Ashton thinking: “I would never be like that!”

Matthew: A brilliant quality of the script is that it’s about amateurs. Nobody is an expert at anything that they’re doing really. They’re all making it up as they go along. That’s a wonderfully liberating, radical, encouraging and inspiring side of it as well. And of course it’s about groups. It has to be about groups of people. We were under some pressure to reduce the number of people in it so to have more chances of filming it on budget and on time and to leave room for characters like Ben Schnetzer’s and George Mackay’s to be explored more. It would’ve become a more familiar and normal way of telling a story but by doing that you dilute the fact that it’s about groups.

Stephen: I love the way Matthew directed the film and our director of photography, Tat Radcliffe, shot it. I love that feeling that the camera goes in one direction but whatever was left behind while it was moving is so interesting that if I could just go back over there we’d have this all other story and you see that all the time in the film: little moments that you just catch a bit of and you wish you could stay with. I think that’s a very exciting experience for the audience.

Matthew: It makes it feel like the script hasn’t been overly designed and constructed and that it is indeed realistic and life-like. One of my favorite lines in the film ever since I first read it was: “I’m just talking to Kev about something.” I thought a writer who can write that kind of line has got such authority and confidence. He doesn’t need to explain. People say rubbish like that in life. That’s how people speak. It’s a tiny example but it gives you an idea of the quality of the material.

Paddy Considine (Dai) and Bill Nighy (Cliff) in PRIDE

Everybody wondered how was the atmosphere during production since the film’s energy is palpable and leaps off the screen. How much did your theatre experience help in dealing with such a sprawling cast?

Matthew: The atmosphere on set was really positive. Everybody’s spirit was up, everybody knew what they were there to do but it was hard work since we were going very fast. Many scenes were two takes only. Every day we ran out of time and rushed to the finish line like crazy but it always felt like we were doing the right thing somehow.

Stephen: I think our stage experience helped a lot with that. Matthew obviously has a celebrated theatre career and that’s my background as well first as an actor and then as a playwright and a lot of the actors in the cast come from the theatre. So even if everyone was freaking out that we were trying to do this enormous gay and lesbian ‘Gandhi’ on half the money and none of the time, what we did is what you do in the theatre when you got no money and no time: you say to the actors “We have no money and no time”. It’s a revolutionary idea that a lot of film crews haven’t thought of. When you say to the actors “Listen, we only have time to do this in one set up. We might get another one and see how we’re going.” They go “Alright, we won’t dick about, we’ll do our best, we’ll get it”.

Matthew: There are many examples but there’s this scene with Mark and Mike played by Ben Schnetzer and Joe Gilgun that takes place in the village, outside in the street at night. They’re having a conversation about what are they going to do next to raise money. We had reached the end of the day and everyone was thinking they were done since we had run out of time. But I thought we could still do that extra scene and asked for those two actors to be brought back on set from the hotel. So they came screaming up in the car into the village at nighttime. The crew picked up the camera and the lights, Ben and Joe jumped out of the car and thank goodness we had rehearsed this scene before because they did two set ups in one take and it was done. And they had no complaints about this being unfair or anything.

Stephen: Joe Gilgun who’s a really funny man, as he was getting in the car screamed “It’s drive-by acting!” He was delighted about it. He just jumped out of the car, did it and went back to the hotel as if it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Matthew: The thing about the casting was that every time we sent the script to people, they really wanted to be part of it, whatever it took, no matter how small the role was and that’s a testament to how important people thought this movie could be. See how Russell Tovey for instance shows up for just one brief yet pivotal scene and does a terrific job with it. And Andrew Scott of course who’s usually sought after for bigger parts but he just makes the most of his screen time whenever he appears, and simply nails it even if he has only one short line to say.

Dominic West as Jonathan Blake in the film Pride.

Dominic West plays Jonathan Blake, a struggling actor and boyfriend of Gethin, played by Andrew Scott, the silent and reserved owner of Gay’s The Word Bookshop in London which served as headquarters to LGSM. Jonathan is the complete opposite of Gethin: exuberant, funny and flamboyant. He has one of the most memorable scenes in the film. An infectious dance number in the welfare hall of the miners’ village. The filmmakers explained how it came about and how important it is to the story.

Stephen: I found a photo of Jonathan Blake at the village’s welfare hall, in the middle of the dance floor. He’s just finished dancing and there’s a lot of clapping and he’s clapping and Sian, one of the miners’ wives, is next to him and she’s inviting other people to see how wonderful he is and just that image made me realize how that scene had to be in the film.

Matthew: It’s an important scene because it’s a transformational moment in the story, when the people in the village change the way they think and also it’s got the feeling of being a set piece that is mirrored by the scene later on when the Welsh people stand and sing and the LGSM members watch in awe and amazement. So each community gives the other one an important transformational event/set-piece.

Before letting them go I feel like asking why there aren’t still more films like Pride which manage to get LGBT themed cinema outside the niche status.

Stephen: I think that part of the problem is that LGBT people aren’t often that visible through history so you have to dig up those stories but they’re very buried. I think this story happens to be about a particular event that is certainly seminal and pivotal in this country’s civil rights history but then in a wider sense it’s harder because I believe people don’t automatically think in those terms when they’re creating characters.

Matthew: Also what’s come out is not a niche film because the situation was anti-niche. The bigger scope of the story just takes over in an explosive way and makes the film feel universal.

Pride is out in UK cinemas on September 12th

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor