Review: Pride (2014)

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Director: Matthew Warchus
Screenwriter: Stephen Beresford
Based on a true story
Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Bill Nighy, George MacKay, Freddie Fox & Jessica Gunning
Runtime: 120 min // Certificate: 15


Alright, let’s start with a caveat. On a purely objective level, Pride has a number of problems. I get that. I know that the soundtrack is blunt and obtrusive, I accept that the script is sometimes more than a little mawkish, and I appreciate that the film is bedevilled by a tendency towards crudity and an oversimplification of one of the most divisive and difficult eras in British post-war history. I don’t deny any of these things. Indeed, I fully expected them and had already prepared myself for the inevitable worst, despite the film’s all but universal acclaim. And, now that I’ve seen it, I readily admit that it is far from perfect. I know it’s far from perfect. What I also know, however, is that Pride is perfect. Let me explain…

Ok, so you know that incomparable buzz you get when it feels like a film has been made specifically for you? You know what I mean, right? That sense of pure, unadulterated joy of feeling as though a writer and/or director have cracked open your head, taken a peek inside and decided to put all of your values, ideals and interests on the screen, so that you can devour and indulge them at your leisure? That’s what Pride is to me; a joyous, authentic and heartfelt excavation into the deepest recesses of my mind, and a film that appeals to every one of my crazy beliefs. In fact, if I didn’t know any better I’d wager that Matthew Warchus and Stephen Beresford have been spying on me for my entire life, such was this film’s ability to fondle every nook and cranny in my queer, pinko, Commie head…

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In a similar vein to British classics like Brassed Off and The Full Monty, Pride offers a hilarious and heart-warming interpretation of a fraught and complicated era in Britain’s contemporary history. Set over the course of a single year, it tells the little-known story of the London branch of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a campaigning and fundraising organisation that did exactly what it says on the tin. The film explores the initial reluctance of both the miners (specifically, the Dulais Valley mining community in South Wales) to accept help from LGSM, and of the lesbian and gay community to support a bunch of people who had never done anything to support them in the past, before racing along to the infamous December 1984 “Pits and Perverts” fundraiser (named as such in response to a headline in The Sun; a homophobic and ferociously pro-Thatcher tabloid rag), an event which brought thousands of pounds and countless new allies to the miners’ futile but admirably tireless cause and, more crucially, helped to cement a bizarre but beautiful friendship between LGSM and the miners that resulted in the National Union of Mineworkers not only leading the London Pride march in 1985 but also voting unanimously to pass a motion committing the Labour Party to LGBT equality at their conference in Bournemouth – the first time such a motion had ever gotten enough support to become an official manifesto pledge, and a real milestone in the battle for equality.

As you can see, the true story of LGSM is fascinating and though Pride fiddles about with the details a little bit it still captures the infectious spirit of this all but unparalleled display of comradeship and solidarity with an effortless and captivating passion. The film offers one of the most earnest portrayals of a working class community I’ve ever seen, and Matthew Warchus wears his devotion to and admiration for LGSM’s cause with – if you’ll excuse the pun – genuine pride. The film isn’t afraid or ashamed to indulge in some admittedly rose-tinted nostalgia, and I totally understand why some people might find that off-putting, yet at the same time there is a refusal on the part of both Warchus and Beresford to shy away from the difficulties that both groups faced in the shadow of an all-powerful enemy. As such, what Pride offers is a humorous if occasionally misty-eyed take on a turbulent period in British history without sacrificing too much of the “kitchen sink” realism that makes such stories so relatable to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Now, with a film like this it would be very easy to ignore the drama in favour of the comedy or vice-versa. Pride, however, is pitched and played absolutely perfectly. Not only is the film amusing, it is genuinely laughing-out-loud and rolling-in-the-aisles hilarious, and the jokes are properly witty. On the flip side, it’s also honest without ever being maudlin. There is a lot of stuff going on beneath the surface, and the film doesn’t try to hide from difficult issues like the HIV/Aids epidemic, the crisis of masculinity amongst the out-of-work miners, the rampant homophobia of the police, the press and the Government, or the death of radicalism and progressivism amongst lesbians and gays in the 21st Century. Sure, these things are never dwelled on but nor are they ignored or brushed under the carpet, and Warchus and Beresford do their utmost to ensure that we don’t forget them because they are the cornerstones upon which the fearless and often fruitless battles for the equal rights and social justice that so many people now take for granted were fought and ultimately won.

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As you will no doubt expect from a film like this, Pride’s greatest strength lies not in its story but in its characters, all of who are properly fleshed out and complex. The film boasts a tapestry of unique and intimately-written characters, some of whom are based on real people (such as Sian James, the current Labour MP for Swansea East, and Mark Ashton, a leading LGSM activist whose life was one of many to be cut tragically short by HIV in the mid-80s), some of whom are composites and some of whom are simply invented. With so many personalities to juggle from both LGSM and the miners, it’s incredible just how complete each character feels, yet thanks to some seriously disciplined writing and a full-house of excellent performances, every single one of them gets their moment to shine. They’re all, with the exception of the “villain” of the piece, likeable and engaging, and they grant real believability and warmth to a story which can sometimes feel a little too extraordinary to be true.

Of course, it would be unfair of me to single just one of the stars out for praise because they’re all so bloody good, but a few of them do deserve a special mention. Schnetzer (The Book Thief), who plays Mark Ashton, is a complete revelation in a role that could easily have fallen victim to lazy stereotypes, while Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead) puts in his strongest performance in over a decade as one of the meek, modest and fragile members of the Dulais Valley community. Andrew Scott (The Stag) brings an element of striking tragedy to the proceedings in one of the film’s toughest roles, while George MacKay (For Those in Peril) dazzles as Joe, a shy and lonely young man who discovers real friendship amongst the members of LGSM and whose home life and social anxiety resonated with me to such an extent that I almost had a minor breakdown in the cinema. Imelda Staunton (Maleficent) is lovable and hilarious, Paddy Considine (Submarine) is utterly charming, while Jessica Gunning (Doctor Who) – who plays Sian James – is like the glue that holds both strands of the disparate tale together. Then there’s everyone else, and they’re all great too!

Also worthy of mention at this point is the soundtrack which, though a little obtrusive, is absolutely wonderful. If you’re a fan of 80s trash and/or socialist anthems, you’ll find the urge to tap your feet and mime along to it utterly irresistible. More than that, however, Pride’s soundtrack is a throwback to an era when music and musicians were a crucial element in the battle against rampant Thatcherism. The “Pits and Perverts” fundraiser, headlined by Bronski Beat, recalls a now long deceased tradition of artists standing up what they believed in, irrespective of the consequences. Look at the miserable state of both “the left” and the music industry in Britain today and tell me that a movement like Red Wedge could ever happen again. Of course it fucking couldn’t, and in that respect Pride’s soundtrack isn’t just brilliant, it’s also quite critical and pointed.

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For me, there are few better feelings in this World than being reminded exactly why I love cinema. Pride comes in the final few months of a year absolutely crammed with misfires and mediocrities, and I cannot stress enough just how delighted I am that it was able to reinvigorate my waning passion for the form. Is it a 5-star film on a technical level? No, of course not (though it’s still a very decent 4…) Nevertheless, on a personal level, Pride is my favourite film of the year and I cannot praise it enough. It’s joyous, hilarious, dramatic and progressively-minded, yet at the same time it’s cautious, critical and – at times – quite heart-breaking. There’s a cameo by Russell Tovey towards the start of the final act that shook me to the core and turned my blood ice cold, and the final few moments reduced me to a pitiful wreck as the simultaneously harsh and hopeful realities of the era came into clear focus for the first time.

Pride is the perfect antidote to the current state of both British politics and mainstream cinema. It is a rollicking and uproariously entertaining film about the power of friendship and the importance of solidarity, and it is utterly unashamed of its roots, which is hugely refreshing in itself. It’s infectious, hilarious and invigorating, and Stephen Beresford’s clear passion for the story he’s telling is matched only by his cast, all of whom seem fully committed to the tale and appear to be having an absolute ball. Whether you support the film’s ideals or not, Pride transcends cheap point-scoring and politicking in favour of honest and heartfelt storytelling and a focus on friendship in the face of insurmountable odds. If that sounds hokey then maybe it isn’t for you, but speaking as someone who generally has little to no time for foolish, misplaced nostalgia, Pride is one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen in years and I cannot recommend it enough.

And now I’m off to see it again, because as a bitter, cynical Trot who long ago gave up believing in the existence of proper, honest-to-God solidarity, I could do with another few injections of Pride quite frankly…