Review by Jane Freebury
This big-hearted sprawling movie shuttles between a grungy gay and lesbian bookshop in inner London and a mining village nestled in the rolling green hills of south Wales. The two locations and the communities that inhabit them would seem to have a pretty tenuous connection at best, but this feel-good British movie, the latest in a solid tradition of uplifting comedies set in times of dire straits, is loosely based on events that really happened. And we are all very familiar with the adage that fact is stranger than fiction.
Pride is about the solidarity that arose between striking coal miners and the lesbian and gay pride activists who raised funds to support them and their families during the notorious, year-long miners’ strike that shook Britain to its core in the mid-1980s. HIV/AIDS was on the horizon and it was early days for the gay rights movement. Besides the open hostility the activists had to deal with, they discovered that the mineworkers union didn’t actually want the money that had been raised, apparently uncomfortable with the association it made. So GLSM (gays and lesbians support miners) hit on the idea of helping a single community and they chose a village from the phonebook.
In their inconspicuous ‘Out Loud’ van, the GLSM manage to pick their way through the hedgerows and navigate the unpronounceable place names to reach the village of Ollwyn. There a few welcoming faces, mainly women, but in the main it’s a solid block of burly, male miners, who regard them with deep suspicion and are unwilling to accept any help. Bit by bit, though, they find common ground. Ata community dance a hot disco number from Jonathan (Dominic West) works on the women and does a lot to advance the cause.
There are many players in this tale. At first it’s Joe (George MacKay), still living with his very straight parents, who finds himself accidentally-on-purpose caught up in a gay rights march. Although the story tracks his coming-of-age as a gay man, other key characters also find themselves, including Mark (Ben Schnetzer), who quickly emerges as the activists’ natural leader. Both MacKay and Schnetzer are young actors to watch. Another actor to watch, as always, is Bill Nighy. He has a really quite small role, but makes it significant with some beautifully understated gestures.
As you would expect, a stake is driven once again through the heart of Maggie Thatcher, but that’s the serious side of this joyful re-enactment of a watershed period in British history. There are plenty of comic highlights, and even though it is slightly too long, Pride most definitely joins the Billy Elliot and The Full Monty tradition of feel-good in adversity.
In a capsule: A sprawling and heartfelt comedy with some serious undertones about a group of gay and lesbian activists who lend a hand to help striking miners in Thatcher’s Britain.