By Alan Mattli
Dedicated to Fabia Morger, who restlessly – and for good reason – told me to see this movie.
Framed by two stirring socialist hymns – Pete Seeger’s “Solidarity Forever” and Billy Bragg’s “There Is Power in a Union” –, Matthew Warchus’ Pride is a passionate, good-natured comedy-drama with a rousing political edge, following in the footsteps of modern British mainstream hallmarks like The Full Monty, Brassed Off, or Calendar Girls.
Set during the British miners’ yearlong strike of 1984-85, the film recounts the unlikely alliance of a group of London-based LGBT activists and a Welsh mining community struggling to do their bit in opposing the severe anti-union policies of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government. Under the leadership of young gay Communist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) became one of the most prolific organisations collecting money and raising awareness for the situation in Great Britain’s ailing industrial regions.
His political affiliations aside, one of the main motivations for Ashton’s founding LGSM – and his maintaining it with his friends Mike (Joe Gilgun), Stella (Karina Fernandez), Jeff (Freddie Fox), Gethin (Andrew Scott), Zoe (Jessie Cave), Jonathan (Dominic West), and fictitious Joe (George MacKay) – harks back to the very core of the worker movement: solidarity. “Who hates the miners?”, he asks early on in the film, “Thatcher, the police, and the tabloids. Sound familiar?” In a ferociously capitalist and rampantly homophobic decade, the marginalised groups of homosexuals and miners stand “shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand” against their establishment foes – even if LGSM faces considerable anti-LGBT backlash in their efforts to fulfill their mission.
Pride may offer a well-worn narrative, but it does so in a diligent, both ardently vocal and nicely subdued way. While Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford undoubtedly make use of some stock figures and conflicts – a potential problem that is substantially mitigated by the film’s basis in reality –, they do not indulge in caricature. Issues and plot points are addressed in a laudably matter-of-fact manner; the range of characters is impressive, their sheer number by no means an impediment to rather poignant characterisations.
Much of the film’s humour is derived from the juxtaposition of the two sets of well-rounded characters. After piling into a minibus and driving to the Welsh village of Onllwyn to be thanked in person for their charitable efforts, Mark, Joe, Stella, and company are greeted by polite scepticism from the strike committee (among them the outstanding Menna Trussler, Bill Nighy, and Imelda Staunton) and rank disgust from the community at large, save for a few more open specimens, such as union stalwart Dai (Paddy Considine) and later Labour politician Siân (Jessica Gunning). But just as the Londoners’ preconceptions about the rural “naïfs” are proven somewhat outsized, if not entirely unfounded, in a delightful string of sequences, striking Onllwyn gradually loses its reservations towards “the gays”. It is worth noting that Pride might well be the first British film of its kind to portray homosexuality from a non-heteronormative perspective.
In fact, even though Warchus and Beresford celebrate LGBT equality – whose adoption as Labour Party policy was strongly influenced by the LGSM campaign – and the British brand of unionist socialism equally, their taking up the cudgels for the latter is the most remarkable and courageous political statement to be found in this heartwarming tale. As Britain – and much of the western world – seems to be finally accepting and embracing non-heterosexuality as a natural part of life on a broad level, leftism has run afoul of Britons, and many other Europeans, in recent years. And yet, here’s a movie that not only betrays an unabashed, full-throated admiration for Marxist thought and socialist ideology, but that refutes the old cliché of left art being dour and dogmatic. Pride is the movie Ken Loach would have made if he’d ever had the interest of reaching a more mainstream audience. Full of engaging characters and touching moments, it’s a sweet, funny, politically conscious, extraordinarily human paean to the profound power and beauty of solidarity.
For more reviews (in German), visit www.facingthebittertruth.com.