It can be hard to imagine, as the idealists are want to have us do, a world in which people of vastly opposing views come together and get to know one another in a way that transcends trite social niceties, bonding in ways so powerful that real, life-affecting change happens.
But this is precisely what happens in the Matthew Warchus-directed Pride, a joyfully-uplifting feel good film with substance that tells the true story of the unlikely but transformative union of a determined group of twenty-something gays and lesbians in London, and a plucky but beleaguered Welsh mining village in the Dalais Valley during the bitterly divisive miners’ strike of 1984-85 in Britain.
At a time when Margaret Thatcher’s bold capitalist experiments were driving yawning fissures into much of British society, one determined young gay man by the name of Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), raised in the fractured society of Northern Ireland and convinced that everyone’s rights are worth fighting for, decides that he and his friends, who collectively christen themselves as the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), would do what they could to support and stand in solidarity the miners, a group who, by standing up in defiance of the prevailing political creed of the day, had managed to draw the ire of the British establishment and media in a way that homosexual men and women were only too familiar with.
It is a bold move on Ashton’s part, one driven by a sense of understanding and camaraderie with the miners – “If anybody knows what this treatment feels like, it’s us.” – with whom the much-maligned and constantly harangued gays and lesbians of London share a great deal in common, despite the obvious differences.
Wasting no time, Ashton marshals his friends to collect funds in colourful plastic buckets outside the “Gay is the Word” bookshop, a move which attracts plenty of opprobrium but also a great deal of support, with the latter increasing still further when one of the members of the mining village’s strike committee, openminded though nervous Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) who good-naturedly admits “I’ve never met a gay before”, travels to London, meets with Mark and his friends, and eventually stands up in one of the local gay nightclubs to thank LGSM and the wider gay community for their generous offer of help.
This unexpectedly successful meeting sets in motion a close knit relationship between the two disparate groups, one borne initially of mutual need – for the miners, of funds to support the striking miners and their families, critically important after the government freezes the accounts of the National Union of Mineworkers in an attempt to force them back to work, and for LGSM, to reach out to a similarly ostracised community where they may be able to make a difference as they struggle to advance their own cause in meaningfully practical ways.
It requires both groups to venture far outside of their comfort zones, a journey that we see reflected in Joe (George MacKay), a 20 year old closeted gay man who makes his first step into a new life on the day of 1984’s London Pride Parade – writer Stephen Beresford’s beautifully calibrated script neatly uses the following year’s parade as an inspirational finishing point for the film – and Siân James (Jessica Gunning), a miner’s wife who, contrary to her limited ambitions, quickly assumes a leading role on the miners’ committee, especially in its dealing with the group affectionately known to most in the village as “The Gays”.
Both of these finely-drawn characters – they are not alone in a film brimming with many such vividly-realised true to life creations, many of whom are based on the actual figures involved in this highly unusual marriage of mid-1980s Britain’s outcasts – are the audience entry points to the mindset changes that happen on both sides as they struggle together for the type of societal change both desperately need.
What makes Pride such a satisfying experience at just about every turn, albeit one tempered by the always present and never ignored cruel realities of life for both the miners and the gays and lesbians who come to their aid (such as harsh police treatment and AIDS), is that many of the seemingly-cliched events which pepper the film, and from which much of its inspiration is drawn, actually took place.
The massive Bronski Beat-anchored Pits and Perverts Concert which forms the centrepiece of LGSM’s fundraising efforts really was held, the miners and LGSM, both of whom makes trips back and forth to each other’s homes, really did come together in a profoundly close way (there were hold outs on both sides of course, a fact not ignored by a movie that doesn’t dispense with the truth simply to generate mere warm-and-fuzzy feelings) and many of the figures featured such as directionless HIV-positive Jonathan Blake (Dominic West) really played a major part in helping this unique partnership bear the spectacularly successful fruit that it did.
The judicious inclusion of these actual events transform Pride from just another lightly dramatic British feel good film – this is by no means a bad club to belong to however since it includes such luminously uplifting films as The Full Monty and Billy Elliott, members of a genre that is far more substantial than it might appear to a cursory glance – into one redolent with an authentic re-telling of the challenges, the joys and the victories inherent in this unique partnership.
That it ends on a victorious high of sorts is not a case of the sort of emotional manipulation that a film like this could too easily tumble into in less assured hands.
Rather, reflecting again actual events, it is testament to the fact that sometimes the idealists are right, that people from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences, who have not so much as shared a coffee let alone a unifying thought, can come together and find that the gulf separating them is not as fearsomely wide or unable to be breached as they first thought.
That they can do it in such a warm, funny and life-changing way is nothing short of miraculous, giving you hope that many other seemingly intractable divisions could also be handled in the same way if only people would take the time to listen, to get to know each other and to act.
In that respect Pride isn’t simply a masterfully-told, funny, engaging and searingly authentic record of a unique moment in time; it’s also proof that humanity’s woes may not be as unsolvable as we thought.
Maybe the idealists are right after all.