“Pride” dramatizes a near-forgotten act of terrific solidarity. In 1980s Britain, gay and lesbian activists raised money for a community of striking miners, despite the miners’ reputation for homophobia, and the two groups banded together to battle shared forms of oppression. While director Matthew Warchus may not do justice to the film’s more serious source material as he combines this bite of history with blatant fabrication and raucous humor, this tale of two struggles is vibrantly entertaining.
Warchus, a stage director, salutes common humanity in this dramedy from the British cinema vein of hardship-themed, feel-good fare such as “The Full Monty.” It begins in 1984, when gay-pride celebrations are occurring and the National Union of Mineworkers, protesting the Thatcher government’s pit-closure plan, is on strike.
In London, Mark (Ben Schnetzer), a young gay activist, decides gay people should support the striking miners because they share with them the experience of being vilified by government, police and the tabloids.
He and comrades– extroverted actor Jonathan (Dominic West), spirited lesbian Steph (Faye Marsay) and semi-closeted 20-year-old Joe (George MacKay), among others – collect cash under the moniker Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. When the union expresses qualms about accepting gay money, the activists select a small mining village in South Wales as their beneficiary.
There, they meet supportive natives such as feisty Hefina (Imelda Staunton), union rep Dai (Paddy Considine) and poetic miner Cliff (Bill Nighy). Not everyone is welcoming. But as the miners and activists interact, ignorance subsides and each group helps the other handle adversity.
Warchus doesn’t display much subtlety. Neither he nor screenwriter Stephen Beresford stay clear of corniness or formula, and the quickness with which the homophobic mining community changes its tune – apparently, Jonathan’s disco moves win over the locals – defies credibility. The gay-friendly folks are too thoroughly likable for belief, and antigay Maureen (Lisa Palfrey) is one-dimensionally sour.
In an aim to be upbeat, or perhaps concerned that a 1980s union battle won’t click with today’s audiences, filmmakers shortchange the miners, revealing little about their yearlong strike and its devastating consequences.
Yet at the same time, the movie explodes with positive spirit. It is irresistible as a celebration of gay rights, solidarity, friendship and dignity. Combining the primary narrative, culture-clash comedy, personal minidramas and history factors such as AIDS, Walthus creates a vibrant canvas and inspires winning performances.
Schnetzer, whose articulate, committed Mark is the story’s pulse, stands out.
Nighy, whose soft-spoken Cliff radiates subsurface dissatisfaction, and Staunton, whose Hefina laughs it up with a dildo in one scene and becomes affectingly thoughtful in others, affirm their status as treasures.
Starring Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy
Written by Stephen Beresford
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Running time 1 hour, 59 minutes