Pride Review

Debutant screen writer Stephen Beresford’s Pride is concerned with the creation of two worlds on a crash course of collision. Drawing inspiration from a gay community urban myth (yes, these do exist), Pride is an odd couple story, founded on a most unlikely historical event: the reciprocal solidarity between beleaguered leagues of miners and harassed homosexuals during the Miner’s Strike of 1984. The Trans-Severn, Anglo-Welsh relationship between the mining fraternity and the effete effervescence of LGSM (Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners) is reminiscent of the great long distance love affair of Gavin and Stacey. Merely swap the backstreets of Barry for the valleys of Dulais and erudite Essex for London’s underground intelligentsia; trade the lovers for a miner speaking onstage in a London drag club, Dai (Paddy Considine), and a gay man onstage during Bingo in a welsh village hall, Mark (Ben Schnetzer) and we have Pride’s version of Gavin and Stacey.

Pride plunges a viewer into the world of collective memory circa 1984. Through virginal suburbanite Joe (George Mackay), affectionately nicknamed Bromley, we are first introduced to the weird and wonderful world of LGSM. Joe’s mission of adolescent self-discovery is the narrative key to unlock this unfamiliar network guiding an audience tentatively into the unknown of gay rights movements. Mackay’s character fulfils the role of the construct, giving an arc on which a more personal plot develops, but the domestic politics in the gradual degradation of his family life proves the only real distraction from the raucous machinations of the LGSM movement. With all these real life characters combusting in rainbows onscreen, it seems a waste to devote so much attention to the pallid Joe, but Mackay is a more reflective and sober pivot around which the larger-than-life actors revolve.

Though perhaps not quite as apocalyptic as Orwell’s version of 1984, even the inner-city festivities of LGSM feel frankly flat, suffocated by the enduring gloom of Thatcher’s England. Apart from the punkish pink mohican of an almost unrecognisable Faye Marsay (Steph), the group looks more like a collection of (slightly) better dressed individuals, more new romantic, than revolutionary. They are totally reliant upon the energy and charisma of Mark (Ben Schnetzer), clad in the battle gear of a James Dean era leather jacket. Schnetzer provides the stand out performance, dominating his scenes with a decent Northern Irish twang and all the full firing throttle of an activist before his heart-wrenching demise through the aid of a spectral Russell Tovey.

With the advent of the Great Moz (the Smiths make an early appearance on Pride’s soundtrack), the underground world of cult and outcast would find a vegan virgin linchpin on which to found an identity based on all things ‘indie’. But, our clan, working out of Gethin’s (Andrew Scott) bookshop, are very much pioneers. London is a city on the cusp of a cultural breakthrough, towards the more liberal accommodation of the modern day, but still cocooned in the ancient ways of class and strangling normality at the expense of expressive individualism. As a result, the LGSM collectors are spat upon more than supported in the streets.

That is London, before we even reach the evergreen, but charcoal stained pastures of South Wales. If Ruth Jones’ Stella looks like an attempt to brighten a gloomy walk of the world with broad smiles and everlasting suns; try winding the clock back 20 years into the years of bitter and bitterness. Pints of bitter rule the lips of men. The tongues spew forth bitterness in the direction of Thatcher: fistfuls of coal replaced by the icy cold fist of the Iron Lady.  Within the context of this masochistic machoism, writer Beresford stages a feminist earthquake firstly through Hefina’s (Imelda Staunton) authority as she forces the reluctant villagers on the path to  accepting the financial support and friendship of the aliens from LGSM; Hefina is an indefatigable symbol for tolerance. Secondly, there is Sian James (Jessica Gunning) who develops from housewife to leading village voice during the film and finally in 2005 becomes MP for Swansea East. Sian James MP adds a nice footnote of history to showcase the impact of this event on the lives of its protagonists, elevating them from the ordinary to extraordinary, from Dulais to Westminster. The efforts of individuals to promote harmony is extrapolated to include the collective transformation of the two communities from dogmatic rejection to a shared badge of honour under the banner of Pits and Perverts, a tabloid title which serves as the threshold for greater unity, meshing the two worlds together under one identity.

Pride is no nostalgic trip into the vaults of miner’s welfare and the last, lost hurrah of British industry, it is firmly forward focused on the future from the more modern angle of the LGSM movement as opposed to an epitaph for welsh mining. As such, the comic gain comes from the clash of youth and energy with the dinosaur doldrums of deepest, darkest west Wales. Beresford is never scathing towards the miners, but his focus and sympathy clearly reside with the big, brash characters of LGSM. The laughs are not one dimensional, but come in the form of the clash of both these so separate worlds. The bus becomes the onscreen medium for humour as the mechanism to transport these two very different people between the distinct worlds of Wales and London.

Each occasion the LGSM team arrive in Dulais, they look about as comfortable as a straight man in a gay club; the film exploits this comedic seam. The highlight for those in search of laughs is the sweaty, stale blonde mullet of Dominic West as he shimmies and shakes in disco groove to the horror of the male miners and the joyous glances of the welsh women. Strictly Come Dancing this most certainly is as he channels the camp overdrive of Jason Donovan, stomping between the idle tankards of the wooden benches in a crescendo of glam, ignoring the shocked and secretly envious stares of the mining brethren.  There are simple pleasures such as the romance of Gethin and Jonathon: played by Andrew Scott, famous for Moriarty, and Dominic West, who was once Gloucester’s psychotic murderer Fred West. Moriarty and Fred West: now there is a power couple.

The film is an exercise in bringing together some of Britain’s premier acting talent and either making them gay (Andrew Scott and Dominic West) or welsh (Imelda Staunton), or both in the case of Bill Nighy.  Pride is the realisation of modern history, with a sweet hit of realism, charging the film with an authenticity to absorb an audience and accompany them into two very different worlds entwined by a funny accident of that most elusive storyteller: history.

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