“Pride,” the feel-good movie of the fall, is an utterly charming British reminder that there’s nothing scarier to politicians than when seemingly incompatible electorates discover their common interests. Those who want us divided don’t want us to remember that “united we stand.”
In Thatcher’s Britain, the the war of organized labor came to a head with the 1984-85 miner’s strike. The Conservative government sought to try and lift the country out of its economic funk by closing down factories and coal mines all over the country. And if a by-product of that was to break unions and throw hundreds of thousands of Labor voters out of work, so much the better.
Miners went on strike, riots ensued.
In London, Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is a young, headstrong gay activist who realizes the cops are too busy busting miners’ heads to hassle him and his friends. He impulsively decides to show solidarity with the miners at London’s 1984 Gay Pride parade.
“It’s not been planned. It’s not been thought through. But it’s a really good idea.”
Maybe it is. Realizing that the right wing press, the Thatcher government and the police are common enemies, Gay Britain has a lot to gain by sticking up for Labor.
But it’s a hard sell. Miners are rural, conservative — subterranean rednecks. They harass and bully homosexuals. First Mark has to convince his community to accept these one-time enemies as friends. Only half a dozen or so join Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners — including flamboyant actor Jonathan (Dominic West), spunky lesbian Steph (Faye Marsay) and closeted pastry chef-in-training Joe (George MacKay). They raise money, enduring abuse from their fellow gays as they do.
Then Mark has to convince miners to accept it. This proves to be even more difficult. But then they stumble onto the idea of adopting a town, helping feed the families out of work because their men are on the picket line. That’s where the small Welsh town of Onllwyn comes in.
The fun in this comic historical drama is in the culture clash, the dated prejudices trotted out by screenwriter Stephen Beresford one more time for more enlightened, modern audiences to giggle over. No, every miner is not a gay-bashing thug, the gays must learn. And the miners have a ways to go themselves. Only a little get together and dancing to Culture Club can bridge that gap.
That comes when the gay activists pile into a bus and force the town — in the nicest way — to accept them by dealing with them as people, face-to face, people at war with the same enemy as the miners.
Paddy Considine plays Dai, the first miner to figure that gays and their disposable incomes, experience with police misconduct and history of agitating are natural allies. Considine, Bill Nighy (as the painfully shy union secretary) and Imelda Stanton, as the local no-nonsense female organizer of the logistics — feeding people — of the strike, are the heart of “Pride.” Director Matthew Warchus makes their scenes of acceptance downright inspiring.
Schnetzer is properly earnest and dogged as Mark. But we see the film through the eyes of Joe, and young MacKay is adorable as the wide-eyed innocent who finally finds his tribe and his purpose, if only he can come out to his parents.
And West, the teller of the tale in “300,” has the Guy Pearce/Terrence Stamp role in this “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” meets “Brassed-Off.” Jonathan is the older gay man, cynical and embittered, who can only keep his flamboyant persona under wraps for so long. Of course he’s the life of the party. We just have to wait for it.
The joy of “Pride” is that it delivers so many easy laughs — little old ladies discovering leather bars, sexual appliances and the like — that when it hits you with a lump in the throat moment, and there are plenty of those, too, it’s unexpected. Even people far removed from the coal fields of Wales can take pride in just how far the world has come in the decades since this romanticized alliance in service of a lost cause.
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexual content
Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Imelda Stanton, George MacKay, Faye Marsay, Dominic West, Bill Nighy, Jessica Gunning
Credits: Directed by Matthew Warchus, written by Stephen Beresford. A CBS Films release.
Running time: 2:00