There’s a wonderfully poignant scene in Pride where Imelda Staunton’s character, Hefina, sits with one of the elder statesmen of their small mining village buttering sandwiches. As they go about this mundane task facing the static, Ozu-esque camera, discussing their new found solidarity with gay pride, the man makes the bold admission he himself is actually gay. To this startling revelation, Hefina simply replies “I think I’ve known that since 1968.” With that, they carry on buttering their sandwiches like nothing has happened.
This short, understated scene confirms that Pride, like The Full Monty, Made in Dagenham and Billy Elliot before it, has that quintessentially British charm. It’s an intangible and inexplicable trait characterised by a blend of personally resonant history and endearing idiosyncratic humour, unmistakably lifted from our small nations. Pride triumphs in this regard. It’s got humour, drama, history and bags of heart that make for one of the most uplifting and enjoyable films of the year.
Straight from the off, Pride spins a yarn that doesn’t content itself with one character’s perspective on proceedings. The audience is fed the tales of two different young men living in the UK circa 1984. Joe (George MacKay) is a pale and timid mummy’s boy straight from a middles class suburb, and Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is a handsome and charismatic greaser living independent of any sort of family. While these two appear polar opposites, they’re both kindred spirits in their sexuality – a fact that becomes apparent when cross paths at a Gay Pride march in London.
Before he knows it, Joe finds himself in a bookshop called “Gay’s the Word.” This opens him up to a world that had been heretofore closeted away from his naïve eyes. This is Mark’s territory. In Joe’s excitement he signs up with Mark’s new splinter group, the unfashionably named ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners,’ with the goal of uniting the miner and gay communities against the common enemy of the Conservative government.
The factions are instantly at odds. The flamboyant gay community is sceptical of the macho bravado of blue collar miners and vice versa. Heedless, Mark and his motley crew make contact with self-effacing miner Dai and head off to Onllwyn, a mining village in Wales. There they seek to aid their cause and grapple with stereotypical prejudice.
Rather than focus solely on the plight of these two outsider groups, Pride contends with a plethora of politically volatile issues exclusive to the Thatcher years. On a wider level, Pride brings in the AIDS epidemic and social tensions amongst 80s subculture to support the central narrative. However, the film truly succeeds in examining these issues at the individual level as their consequences manifest in the starring characters.
With this in mind, the appeal of Pride falls heavily on the shoulders of the extensive cast. Thankfully, the acting is brilliant throughout from almost everyone involved. Seasoned heavyweights Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy give the sort of polished performances we’ve come to expect from them, the latter especially earnest in his role as Onllwyn’s wise leader, Cliff.
But it’s Dominic West who stands out amongst the senior ranks. He’s outstandingly authentic as the exuberant middle-aged thespian, Jonathan. Carrying more than a hint of Manchester music impresario Tony Wilson about him, Cooper makes his own man of Jonathan. He combines a battle-weary authenticity with a rambunctious streak that comes to a head in a risqué dance sequence that bewilders the quiet Welsh mining village. True to his nature, he takes the resulting plaudits with delight.
Warchus resists the danger of one-dimensional stereotyping with a deep bench of stars and specialized plots. Even smaller parts like Steph (Faye Marsay) and Gethin (Andrew Scott) have their own romantic and familial conflicts to plump them out.
Perhaps the only disappointment is George MacKay. He’s overly wooden and reserved as Joe, especially in contrast to the brash counterpoint that is Mark. It is difficult to tell if this can be attributed to his ability or to the stunted dialogue he’s afforded by writer Stephen Beresford. Regardless, his role unfortunately sticks out.
Many of the better performances are owed in part to director Matthew Warchus’ ability to find the perfect balance between heartfelt sentiment, wide appeal and historical retrospection. It would be easy to fall into the trap of making Pride painfully sappy, but Warchus allows the story to naturally harness the audience’s emotions. Only during a rousing bout of singing from the Welsh miners does the film deliberately and unsubtly tug at the heartstrings.
While Warchus and Beresford mostly focus on emotional drama, it can’t be understated how genuinely funny Pride is. In a similar vein to The Full Monty, the humour stems from the culture clash and mismatch of characters. This is never funnier than when little of old Welsh lady Gwen (Menna Trussler) asks the newly arrived lesbians if it’s true that they’re all vegetarians. It’s small town ignorance on absurd display.
To supplement Pride‘s pitch-perfect tone, there’s an endearing attention to period detail. The cherry on top is the soundtrack filled with 80s favourites: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Peter Shelley, The Smiths and, of course, Billy Bragg with his tailor-made song, “Power In The Union.”
Some will complain Warchus doesn’t sufficiently delve into the politics of the time, but I’d argue that would only bog down the film’s focus on individual experience. Pride thrives on the smaller scale. This is glaringly obvious in the very staged look of the charity gig.
Due to its sheer heart and character, it’s enough to drive any production on and keep the audience emotionally invested. I was always close to tears and laughing away in equal measure. It may not be the grittiest portrayal of the period – This is England owns that – but Pride’s all-encompassing approach is one of the most universally enjoyable.
With a misty-eyed optimism and unwavering faith in human solidarity, you couldn’t find a more appropriate message or film than Pride in light of the UK’s recent tumultuous politics. We could all take a lesson or two from Dai in Pride, holding his 100-year-old flag which displays two hands gripped in unity emblazoned on its front. The message? We’re better together. And if Pride is anything to go by, the omens are good.
Movie Verdict: Win