By James Cain
As of writing, there are people of all ages and walks of life protesting systemic racism on the streets of the United Kingdom. There’s also a pandemic on, with many accusing the Tory government of exacerbating the UK’s horrifying death toll. So to say that “Pride” (2014) might have something to offer the average Brit right now is a bit of an understatement.
Directed by Matthew Warchus and written by Stephen Beresford and set in 1984, “Pride” takes us from London to Onllwyn, a small mining village in Neath Port Talbot, Wales. Fervent, Northern Irish gay-rights activist Mark (a surprisingly American Ben Schnetzer), dissatisfied with the campaigning efforts of his group in the capital, realises that miners are taking a kicking from the police not-dissimilar to the fight he and his queer comrades are fighting. And so, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) is born.
“What makes “Pride” a modern classic is its colossal sense of empathy. Wearing its socialist politics on its sleeve, the film is furious that good people were, and still are, subject to oppression by the British government.”
“Pride” is a fairly meat-and-potatoes film from a structural point of view, and you’re unlikely to find many surprises here. You follow your gay (and lesbian) fishes out of water as they cross over into Cymru, enjoying culture-clash comedy and soulful conversations. You enjoy the initial success, followed by the devastating blow, before culminating with bittersweet glory. However, while Pride doesn’t offer much new from a storytelling point-of-view, you will cry. A lot.
What makes “Pride” a modern classic is its colossal sense of empathy. Wearing its socialist politics on its sleeve, the film is furious that good people were, and still are, subject to oppression by the British government – be they queer and trans adults, working-class people, BAME Britons (huge respect to the Black Lives Matter movement, by the way) or immigrants (though it’s worth pointing out that “Pride” is a mightily caucasian film).
The key to making this whole thing work – so it doesn’t feel like you’re openly weeping through a reading-session of Engels’ “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” – is the humour. Beresford’s script does embrace character cliché to a degree, but it never feels dishonest. The gays and lesbians (or “London-based activists” on that infamous American bluray box) are witty, urbane types who take on their behemoth fight with gusto, humour and eternal piss-taking. The miners are no-nonsense, straight talking people who, while gruff at first, come to accept their queer comrades over a few pints. The former camp’s comedy powerhouse is undoubtedly lush luvvie Jonathan Blake (Dominic West), while the Welsh boast Hefina Headon (Imelda Staunton), a furious strike-leader with a wicked sense of humour.
“We might have our differences, but we must stick together in order to ensure that our society is fair, equal and just. There’s more that connects us than what divides us.”
Warchus and Beresford also take time to explore an issue often commonplace in left-wing activism: Division. The small-but-significant rifts in LGSM (what their priorities should be, what actions the group should take) mirror the recent issues that led to a civil war in Auckland’s LGBTQ+ community, while of course many miners caved to the government’s pressure and became ‘scabs’ in order to feed their families. The left, after all, are only human, and so sticking together can often be difficult. It also examines how, if you’re a cultured, well-read activist living in a city like London, it might not be easy to empathise with working class people from a conservative village.
Mark has to convince his fellow metropolitan queer activisits that the LGBTQ+ community and the mining community are both taking a kicking from the same person: “Margaret fucking Thatcher”, as Bill Nighy’s stoic miner Cliff seethes. We must fight for oppressed minorities, “Pride” purports, but we also can’t stand by while poverty-stricken families are struggling to pay for food.
We might have our differences, but we must stick together in order to ensure that our society is fair, equal and just. There’s more that connects us than what divides us. The LGBTQ+ and working-class heroes who have fought for a better Britain deserve recognition. No Briton should need to use a food bank, just as no Briton should be beaten for being gay.
As the opening lines of Billy Bragg’s Power In A Union, used to devastatingly-emotional effect in the film state:
“There is power in a factory, power in the land,
“Power in the hand of the worker,
“But it all amounts to nothing
“If together we don’t stand,
“There is power in a Union.”