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PRIDE – Review
September 9, 2014
There’s no other way of putting it: Pride will most likely be the most important film you’ll see this year. Rarely a mainstream production not only finds such a uniquely unknown true story to tell but most importantly the perfect balance of poignancy and humour to tell it without ever feeling politically preachy, simply aiming at audiences’ hearts by reminding them that there is indeed some good in this world. Feel free to colour me a cheesy and naive idealist, yet my bold statement in support of this wonderful cinematic achievement comes from me not just as a gay man but more than anything as a human being who strongly believes in compassion and solidarity.
I was only four years old when the UK’s National Union Of Mineworkers started a strike to protest the planned closure of coalmines around the nation in 1984. The government led by Margaret Thatcher reacted with repressive measures and the only thing the miners were left with in order to survive while fighting for their (and their offspring’s) right to work was the help and support of generous groups. One of these groups particularly stood out above the rest in the process and not just by raising the highest amount of funds to help the miners but most importantly by going out of their way in order to help the striking class. It was the LGSM (Lesbians and Gay Support The Miners), a team of gay rights activists from London who in the wake of 1984’s gay pride realized how they shared the same opponent the miners were fighting: the Thatcher government, the police and the tabloids.
I’m not part of a minority that’s clueless about these events because of the generational gap. This amazing story of unlikely solidarity between two very distant communities has remained in the dark for a long time and a film like Pride is the evidence of how much of a powerful and important art form cinema is. What history has miserably failed to record, screenwriter Stephen Beresford has aptly discovered and researched with thorough investigative spirit and then brought to life in spectacular fashion with his masterful screenplay directed with confidence, grace and style by Tony Award winning theatre director Matthew Warchus. Despite being already a successful playwright with a National Theatre hit under his belt, it’s impressive to acknowledge how Pride is Beresford’s first film script. He skillfully crafts a sprawling narrative that revolves around a copious amount of characters and makes this film an outstanding ensemble piece where even the smallest character has a reason to be and a moment to shine.
In that respect both Beresford’s and director Matthew Warchus’ theatre background most certainly has proved to be a great asset in order to lead the astonishing cast they gathered to bring this beautiful story to life. Mixing some of the most established and navigated British thespians with some of the most exciting newcomers on the scene, this group of brilliant actors is a joy to watch as they flawlessly take ownership of their roles with equal talent in both dramatic and comedic moments. Just listing them feels almost intimidating and definitely awe-inspiring. Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Paddy Considine headline the miners’ community whilst Dominic West, Andrew Scott and Joseph Gilgun are the big names in the gay activists group. But watch out for relative newcomers Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Faye Marsay and Freddie Fox as they are all scene-stealers.
Now, in order to introduce us to this world and make us discover it while taking part to it, Beresford has created one fictional character, Joe, an innocent eighteen years old who makes his first attempt at stepping out of the closet by sort of nonchalantly sneaking in the trenches of 1984 London’s gay pride parade. George Mackay (How I live Now) portrays him in a beautifully understated way, perfectly capturing his metamorphosis throughout the film from shy and frightened closeted boy to brave and proud young gay man. A lost and disoriented soul, Joe easily lets himself get involved with Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) and Mike Jackson (Joseph Gilgun) when they found LGSM and set their headquarters at Gay’s The Word Bookshop run by the timid Gethin (Andrew Scott) and his struggling actor boyfriend Jonathan (Dominic West).
Ben Schnetzer (The Book Thief) plays the bright and passionate Mark fiercely as he embraces the goal of helping the miners and struggles to convince his fellow activists that it’s a worthy cause. But conflict soon arises when they pick a Welsh village to help out and after raising some money their effort isn’t exactly met with enthusiasm by most of the mining community that inevitably isn’t comfortable with the benefactors. Yet Mark doesn’t give up at the first obstacle and he manages to meet one of the miners, a nice man called Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) who takes the responsibility of accepting the LGSM’s donation and then plays mediator when his community rejects the help at first. He even hosts the entire LGSM team at his house when they organize a trip to the Welsh village in order to show the miners they’re serious about their support.
It’d be cruel to reveal anything that could spoil then fun and the emotional impact of watching this film for the first time and learning an incredible true story no one had a clue about. Suffice to say that when the gays and lesbians visit the mining community all sorts of hilarity ensue and yet the film never loses sight of its serious matters. Each character has his or her own personal story to bring to the table and they all contribute to drive the narrative forward and deliver its poignant themes. Whether it’s Gethin’s hurt for having been disowned by his family in Wales and so being a double outcast, Joe’s coming of age and coming out of the closet or Sian, one of the miners’ wives realizing her potential and that there could be more to life than just being a wife and a mother, the film engrosses you with its emotional rollercoaster and its uplifting spirit without ever feeling cheesy or artificial.
Pride is one of those films that graciously and triumphantly accomplish the difficult task of educating, inspiring and entertaining its audience all at once, and leaves you with a powerful mix of warmth, joy and hope on the way out of the theatre. It’s rare to see LGBT-themed films with such a broad narrative spectrum and the ability to make their story feel universal. In the end this isn’t just a film about gay pride, this is a film about human pride. Tightly scripted and directed, Pride excels in every department and shows how British cinema is still alive and kicking. Hands down the best British film of the year, Pride is easily going to be one of the best films of the year as well, hopefully drawing much deserved attention during awards season. This is a small miracle of a movie I wish I had been fortunate enough to see while growing up.
Pride is out in UK cinemas on September 12th
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor