REVIEW: Pride [2014]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 120 minutes | Release Date: September 26th, 2014 (UK)
Studio: Pathé / BBC Films / CBS Films
Director(s): Matthew Warchus
Writer(s): Stephen Beresford

“Oh good. I haven’t spoken 1950s in ages.”

If you’re going to make a film with a sprawling ensemble of characters equally unique and important to the point where your only true lead is a message of solidarity and comradery itself, it’s a good move to look towards the theater. Pride is the screenwriting debut of actor/playwright Stephen Beresford and only the second film from Broadway director Matthew Warchus with fifteen-years in between and yet it feels like they’ve both been working in the industry for ages. They have wrangled everyone together to deliver affectingly funny and heartfelt performances within an impeccable 80s backdrop courtesy of costuming, locales, and politics. Welcome to the Margaret Thatcher era in England—a period when the only people willing to help an undervalued Welsh community of miners on strike are a ragtag bunch of gay and lesbian activists.

At times a message piece against a party, others a dissection of bigotry aimed at homosexuals, and always a sure-handed depiction of humanity’s ability to look past prejudice and differences to find a common cause in freedom, Pride has a little something for everyone while also educating us about a historical moment worth knowing. Beresford takes special care to never allow his script to become one thing over the next no matter the numerous opportunities presented to him that would have been taken by Hollywood at the drop of hat. He doesn’t use the mining union platform to further expand upon any gay agenda, nor does he shoehorn his activists into cartoonish creatures full of flamboyance to drive home the point that gruff men can unearth a long buried sense of compassionate understanding.

Instead we receive a truthful depiction of hardship and the power a common gesture like friendship can provide. Many lines of dialogue hit home hard like small town mining spokesman Dai (Paddy Considine) standing in front of an all-gay contingent with genuine gratitude and a quick-witted show of evolution in refusing to let preconceptions diminish what a community he had never known as more than an abstract idea hyperbolized by the media did for him and his cause back home. Because it wasn’t—and still isn’t—a small thing to put your neck out for complete strangers solely as a result of wanting to do the right thing. Mark (Ben Schnetzer), Mike (Joseph Gilgun), and their friends could have continued fighting their fight at home, but they saw a similar community facing an insurmountable challenge and stood tall.

It was surely more than the realization a slow week of police interference during London’s annual Gay Pride Parade meant the authorities were focusing their aggression elsewhere, but something in the minimalistic profundity of such a reason is believable. Listening to Mark talk about how limiting being a gay rights activist is considering people everywhere face persecution identical to what he experiences is refreshingly uncomplicated and yet its brilliance is breathtaking. Think of his idea to raise money for a breed of people as far from “friends” as possible as a sort of “pay it forward” type deal. If they show their support as one marginalized group helping another, it will only humanize them, evaporate the lines separating them, and create a union more powerful than either could possibly become alone.

And while this over-arching narrative delivering hope for a future still yet to discover universality in sexuality, race, and religion plays out, numerous specific examples of the same idea arrive to enhance and parallel it on an individualized level. There’s young Joe (George MacKay)—our conduit into this world—testing the waters of what life could be as an “out” member of society despite Christian parents who’ll never approve. There’s the Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) one founding lesbian Steph (Faye Marsay) finding her place as someone who won’t be put in a box; miner union board members Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and Cliff (Bill Nighy) doing their best to maintain the Welsh hospitality they know these young Londoners deserve; and smart, outspoken Sian (Jessica Gunning) grabbing hold of what’s happening and ensuring no one’s left behind.

We watch as every character moves forward emotionally, intellectually, and philosophically—besides the villain we all love to hate (Lisa Palfrey‘s Maureen)—growing into three-dimensional people before our eyes. Yes their stepping stones are sometimes clichéd such as two skeptical miners warming to the thought that putting prejudice aside to learn to dance can help them win over the ladies, but a little levity only ensures we stay invested. Because for every example like this comes a devastatingly heart-wrenching moment of authentic love and respect. Watching Martin’s (Rhodri Miller) change from fearful bystander to confident bodyguard is inspiring; Cliff’s timidity evaporating just enough to tell his sister-in-law Maureen what he believes is right invigorating; and Mark’s defeated frustration and vitriol when things look dire a relatable and resonant aftermath of so much blood, sweat, and tears seemingly spent for naught.

No matter their success or failure with the miner strike, however, the fact their relationship sticks is victory enough. The way they rally around each other as a whole or individually—both Andrew Scott‘s Welsh transplant Gethin and Dominic West‘s disenfranchised Jonathan steal the show with stirring performances that earn tears and laughter from us and those onscreen—is inspirational. The fact it’s a true story makes it that much more. The mid-80s were a turning point in our comprehension of homosexuality and AIDS and this story shows how a selfless desire to lend a hand helped mold the direction we as a populace went. Pride is about finding who you are and realizing the answer lies deep within. And once you’re willing to strip life down to its basest form, it’s difficult not to see how alike we all are.

[1] (Front row, left to right) Faye Marsay as Steph, George Mackay as Joe, Joseph Gilgun as Mike, Paddy Considine as Dai and (second row, with megaphone) Ben Schnetzer as Mark in PRIDE to be released by CBS Films. Photo credit: Nicola Dove
[2] Nia Gwynne as Gail, Jessica Gunning as Sian, Liz White as Margaret, Menna Trussler as Gwen and Imelda Staunton as Hefina in PRIDE to be released by CBS Films. Photo credit: Nicola Dove
[3] Dominic West as Jonathan in PRIDE to be released by CBS Films. Photo credit: Nicola Dove

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