Film review: PRIDE, from Built For Speed

Pride, which explores the hitherto unlikely partnership of striking coal miners and the gay rights movement in 1980’s Britain, is a highly enjoyable nineties-style feel-good British working class comedy/drama in the vein of The full Monty, Brassed Off and Billy Elliot.

The film returns us to Margaret Thatcher’s Britain of the mid-80’s where economic rationalist policies were putting the squeeze on many people in Britain.  One casualty of these policies was the coal mining industry resulting in many towns being devastated by mine closures.  A large protest movement grew in response to the closures with miners finding themselves in pitched battles with police. Seeing an unspoken solidarity between the coal miners’ plight and theirs, people in the gay and lesbian community formed an activist group called “Lesbians and Gays Support Miners” or LGSM to raise funds for the striking workers. It seems odd that the left would support coal mines but this was a decade before global warming concerns became widespread. 

In the film LGSM is led by Mark (Ben Schnetzer) who assembles a naïve but driven group of supporters which includes Joe (George McKay) a shy young student awkwardly trying to negotiate his newly acknowledged homosexuality and John (Dominic West) a cynical yet flamboyant middle-aged gay man. Full of enthusiasm they’re brought back to earth when they attempt to directly address the miners of a Welsh community and find that solidarity between oppressed peoples isn’t a given. It will take rapprochement from both groups to achieve their goals.

The film’s drama flows from the double meaning of the word ‘pride’ as both a sense of satisfaction with an achievement and as a reluctance to accept help lest it make someone look weak. The latter is particularly true of the miners as they fear ridicule and questioning of their masculinity if they accept help from gay people.

This film covers a lot of bases: gay rights, the miners’ plight, homophobia, the spectre of AIDS, 80’s nostalgia and the oppressive culture of Thatcherite Britain. This broad approach is both a blessing and a curse as the film addresses a variety of relevant issues but in some cases only does so superficially. Similarly, the film focuses on a large ensemble of characters within the LGSM group and the Welsh mining town. The film consequently lacks an identifiable centre but thankfully performances are strong enough to overcome this problem.

Schnetzer convincingly portrays Mark as a passionate and articulate activist, Mackay’s Joe has some of the likeable innocence of Logan Lerman in Perks Of Being A Wallflower while Domenic West brings his usual gravitas to the role of the world weary John.  The standouts, though, are Imelda Staunton as a wonderfully pugnacious mining town matriarch who movingly throws her support behind LGSM, Paddy Considine as the compassionate union leader Dai, Andrew Scott as the troubled Gethin a young gay man trying to reconcile a traumatic past and a remarkably restrained and introspective Bill Nighy as union member Cliff.

The film touches on the more visceral and disturbing aspects of the strike such as near starvation of unpaid workers and aggressive treatment from police at the protests although at times the police are stereotyped here as nothing more than mocking bullies.  The film does not explicitly show violence against gay people which has led some to criticise the film for ignoring a harsh reality.  This is simply not that sort of movie, director Matthew Warchus clearly wanted to make a positive and uplifting film and extreme violence would have stopped the film cold.

Among its many achievements the film reminds us that in mid-80’s Britain there was very commercially successful, overtly gay popular music and there’s a fine selection of pop hits here.

Warchus deftly negotiates a fine line between feel-good optimism and gritty drama but occasionally ventures into unsettling fantasy as in the scene in which Domenic West suddenly quashes the miner’s resistance and homophobia by launching into a wild dance routine; it’s an energetic scene but far-fetched.  Also, for all its open-mindedness the film is coy about physical contact, gay or straight and also disappointingly, indulges in caricatures at times, particularly in its depiction of lesbians. 

Pride is clichéd and a little unbelievable in places so those looking for serious cultural and gender studies analysis will probably find plenty to criticise in this film.  Still, this film represents an accessible fusion of two pertinent social and political issues and provides a rousing feel-good drama that is never dull during any of its 120 minutes.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Drama/ comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Matthew Warchus.

Release date: 6th Nov 2014

Running time: 120 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

Related Posts: