Movie review: ‘Pride’- a comedy, a romp and a tear-jerkerMovie Review Thursday, October 9th, 2014
In the somewhat tired genre of British movies that focus on plucky working class folks winning contests and defying mores (The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Brassed Off, etc.) the politics of class conflict are usually sublimated by the up-from-our-bootstraps plotlines. It’s actually kind of sinister how those films trivialize the experience of British coal miners, pensioners and factory workers. But while Pride, about a group of gay activists in London who set out to help striking miners in Wales in 1984, is firmly in that genre and suffers a bit for it, the film is actually about and never shies away from politics – labor politics, gay politics and the messiness of solidarity. This is not to say the film, the winner of the Queer Palm at Cannes, is a political dirge; it’s also a comedy, a romp and a tear-jerker.
In 1984 gay activism was radical and very lefty and the labor movement was in its worst crisis since the Depression. Part of the Thatcher government’s economic strategy was the drastic reduction of subsidies for the nationalized mining industry, and when it was announced that the government would shut down 70 pits, the entire mining workforce went on strike. Since long term strikes are exceedingly rare in the United States nowadays, we forget that the strikers are going without pay (since union-supplied “strike pay” is very low, if it exists), and that means there’s no money for things like food.
The eager gay activists in London who decided to help the miners do so by raising money to give the strikers for food, clothing and other sundries. The activists – young gay socialist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), aging disco queen Jonathan Blake (Dominic West), college boy Joe (George McKay), lonely lesbian Steph (Faye Marsay), among others – raised a good sum of money for a group of striking miners in a randomly chosen town in Wales. When they tell the strike committee in that town about their work, their sweet, unassuming representative (Paddy Considine) invites them to visit. The activists agree and then realize just how terrifying they are, since rural Wales is not known for its friendliness to queer city folk. While they are warmly welcomed by town elders Cliff (Bill Nighy) and Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and plucky, young miner wife Siân James (Monica Dolan), many of the other townspeople are threatened and threatening.
Will they get along? Will they join forces in solidarity? Will everyone learn something about themselves? Will there be a dance sequence? If you’ve seen any of the movies in the genre, you can imagine what the answers to these questions are. Some of the resulting scenes are cloying, particularly when Dominic West is involved, since the lead cop from The Wire is wildly miscast as a campy gay man. But Schnetzer’s Mark is enormously charismatic as the fierce and idealistic ringleader of the gays, and Nighy and Staunton, two of Britain’s greatest living actors, are so good as their town’s quiet soul and loud conscience respectively that the film is raised to almost undeserved heights when they’re on screen.
The end of the film, which I won’t give away, is particularly powerful because of its honestly astonishing truth and because it is a reminder of how far gay rights have come, how far the labor movement has fallen, and how many movements are now unable to join with partners for the greater good. The gay rights movement, for intance, in its almost singular focus on marriage rights, has lost sight of its origins as a radical force focused on ending gender, racial and economic inequality. It’s a tad frustrating that a feel-good comedy released by an awards-hungry film division of CBS is what is reminding us.
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Written by Stephen Beresford
Starring Ben Schnetzer, Monica Dolan and Dominic West
Opens Oct. 10 at Landmark Hillcrest
Rated R by the wildly homophobic MPAA
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