Monday, 29 September 2014

Pride (2014) - Matthew Warchus

It’s easy to dismiss Pride as a gay Billy Elliot.  After all, it’s another film that subverts our views of machismo miners.  That, however, would undermine the importance of this film – perhaps the most remarkable equal rights film this decade.

Note ‘equal rights’ there.  This isn’t strictly a ‘gay’ film, it’s a film that celebrates equality for all.  That said, the changing views of homosexuality plays a big part in the film.  At the start “gay” is a dirty word that can barely be spat out by the cast of characters; by the end it’s something to be celebrated.  Long may that continue.

Set in Thatcherite 80s Britain and based on a true story, Pride sees a group of young homosexuals fund-raising to assist miners in a small Welsh village during the miners' strikes.  If anyone can understand the persecution of the miners it’s ‘the gays’.  What brings them together is a common enemy: Thatcher (apparently, she’s fairgame now she’s dead).  This is a film about the power of community spirit, the collision of two contrasting communities and the unlikely alliances that are formed.  One particular scene sees the Welsh community one by one rising up in song - it's a powerful statement.

There’s plenty of comedy in the attempted integration.  There’s a real contrast between the grey, downtrodden life of the miners and the eccentric, colourful London.  The film does a wonderful job of recreating the thrill of 80s London – the underground clubs, the bizarre fashions and the brilliant soundtrack (Bronski Beat themselves make an appearance singing their seminal hit Smalltown Boy).  Both communities are able to open the eyes of their opposites to a brand new world.  Seeing a group of elderly Welsh women in a gay leather club is hilarious, and seeing Imelda Staunton waggling a dildo around is worth the entrance fee alone.

Of course, any community is made up of individuals and the narrative of Pride consists of a combination of personal, touching human stories.  Ben Schnetzer plays the leader of the gay movement, Mark – an incredibly brave and forthright figure with a dark secret; Jessica Gunning plays a wife and mother trying to take hold of her life; Andrew Scott’s Gethin is a man exiled from his home based purely on his sexuality – the scene of him revisiting his family is particularly emotional.  The main protagonist, though, is Joe (George MacKay).  For him Pride is one boy’s coming out story as he fights against the public and his family to stand up for his beliefs, something that personifies the sentiment of the film at large.

There are a number of darker issues that are somewhat glossed over here.  The struggles of the miners themselves, their way of life and their apparent emasculation is barely mentioned; the Aids epidemic is only alluded to; and we never discover the fate of Monica Dolan’s Marion, the only clear villain of the film (Thatcher aside).  As such, Pride could be said to sugar-coat its narrative.  Instead, this is a film of overwhelming positivity with an eminently quotable script; a drama first and a history lesson second.  Charm simply radiates from the screen.

Though one-sided, Pride is a wholeheartedly British film: a wholesome and feelgood comedy-drama.  Isn’t that what we do best?  It’s enough to inspire pride in our communities, pride in our human rights and pride in Great Britain.