It seems like every year there is a mainstream “gay” movie that progressive heterosexuals can get behind. Last year it was, of course, Dallas Buyers Club, despite the fact that the film was actually the story of a prejudiced straight man saving a bunch of AIDS-afflicted homosexuals. Still, one of the characters was a man in drag, so Hollywood says it counts! The new film Pride, a British production from well-known theatre director Matthew Warchus, allows its gay characters to have a little more agency, and the result is a movie that is actually quite good.
During the UK miners’ strike of 1984, young gay rights activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) convinces his friends to begin raising money for those miners who can no longer provide for themselves and their families. Together with his pals Mike (Joseph Gilgun), Steph (Faye Marsay), not-yet-out Joe (George MacKay), and a few others, Mark forms LGSM – Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners. Mark’s thinking is that the miners are now experiencing much of the persecution his community received from police for so long, and so he decides it is only right to help them out. When the National Union of Mineworkers refuses LGSM’s donations, Mark and the gang decide to pass the funds on directly to one affected Welsh town. Despite initial resistance from the townspeople, LGSM find allies in Dai (Paddy Considine), Cliff (Bill Nighy), and Hefina (Imelda Staunton). The two communities begin to work together, and are able to accomplish more than they would have as separate entities.
It’s the kind of story that seems perfectly designed for a feel-good movie, and in fact there is a section consisting of triumphant moment after triumphant moment in the second act that clues the viewer into the fact that this isn’t exactly a documentary. These artificial scenarios had me whispering snarky remarks to my companion, but then something started happening. I actually started caring about these people. The cynicism fell away (a tall order in my specific case), and I just watched the film.
The unbelievable moments don’t go away completely. Warchus is a theatre director after all, and the script by Stephen Beresford gives him ample opportunity to stage impassioned speeches during which whole crowds of people look on with eyes full of admiration. This is the type of movie where conniving homophobes plot in a tiny house with blinds drawn so tight it is shocking they don’t die of oxygen depravation. The type of movie where an entire town spontaneously breaks into perfectly-pitched song. The type of movie where The Wire‘s Dominic West performs a dance number that turns enemies into friends. But all of it fits the film’s tone. The story of Pride is larger than life – a small group taking on a government actively trying to starve its populace into submission – so the movie is as well.
The cast is similarly large. The marketing implies bigger name actors like Nighy, Staunton, and West carry Pride, but it is truly an ensemble feature, with much of the heavy lifting being done by Schnetzer and MacKay. The younger actors can’t really stand up to their more experienced counterparts, but the scenes in which they take control are very well-acted.
Credit to Beresford for a script that does right by ten or so primary characters, and to Warchus for making it all work on camera. Warchus doesn’t make any big moves as a director, but he let’s the scenes breathe, which is just as important. His cinematographer, Tat Radcliffe, manages to capture some beautiful shots of snow-covered Wales, but mostly the shots are just set up to watch the characters do their business.
That business is satisfying, however. As is Pride, as a whole. As emotional manipulation gives way to actual emotion, the film distinguishes itself as mainstream queer cinema, without pandering or patronizing. It might even make your eyes get wet a couple of times. Consider this a general recommendation.