Dir: Matthew Warchus
Starring: Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West.
15 cert, 120 mins
I’m sitting in the cinema on a sunny Saturday afternoon. There are four elderly ladies in front of me. A smattering of couples, gay and straight alike all around. A group of girlfriends at the back. A mother and her son a few rows away. It’s not my usual cinema crowd. And in many ways that’s no bad thing. And a testament to the appeal of Pride. We’ve read the articles… seen the trailers… we all know by now that Pride picks up the Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Brassed Off mantle. We’ve guessed that it chucks in a bit of Beautiful Thing and serves it up alongside some 80’s politico pop. What I certainly didn’t expect is exactly how delectable that serving is. This film is a delight.
It has everything you’d expect. You’ve got a shattered industrial town. An outspoken idealistic working class hero, a sensitive artist learning all about himself, and bunch of (good and bad) matriarchs. You’ve got evil Tories, small town mentality, and a shared struggle. There’s a fine cast of Brit gold with a smattering of exciting up and coming talent… You’ve got the threat of AIDs, the hope of better times and in the middle of it all – no weaving through the very fabric of the film – you have a whole lot of heart.
London, the 1984 Gay Pride march, and bright bear cub activist Mark convinces (not quite all of) of his friends to back the Miners, because they’re being oppressed too – much like the LGBT community of the time they’re also being bullied by Conservative cruelty. And of course the popular press. But Mark is going to save them all, whether they like it or not.
So our merry band turns up in the Dulais Valley in Wales, with some hard raised cash, and turn life upside down. There’s chaos, laughter, drinking, firecrackers, a bit of heartbreak and lots of jokes about vegan Lesbians. Some eyes are opened, some doors are shut, but no person is left unaffected. Especially when winter hits.
The film, on the whole is superbly acted. It’s hard to choose a breakout. Relative newcomer Ben Schnetzer gives a ballsy performance in an even ballsier role. Mark is the kind of Gay man I wish I’d seen more of when I was working this whole gay thing out in the 90’s. He’s cute, he’s idealistic, he’s not scared to stick up for what he believes in and at times he acts like a bit of a dick. But he never for a second compromises his principles. Schnetzer’s star is definitely on the rise, we last saw his touching performance as Jewish refugee Max in the Book Thief, and we’ll be seeing more of him as spoiled little rich boy Dimitri in the Riot Club… His portrayal here is as tender as it is fierce, and he more than stands tall against the bigger stars of the film. Imelda Staunton and Dominic West, for instance, give great performances but perhaps at time feel underused. On the flip side, Menna Trussler steals every scene she’s in as the slightly naïve nanna Gwen. Jessica Gunning’s portrayal of Sian James is every bit the fierce lioness protecting her own pride and you’re with her all the way, and Joseph Gilgun is almost unrecognisable in his role as the dependable Mike. The real surprises for me where Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott. I’ve never been Bill’s biggest fan, there’s just something I’ve never quite been able to ‘get’. But his portrayal of the slightly dithering and reserved Cliff is spot on. There’s an amazing scene with Imelda Staunton that’s roughly 8 lines and buttering a loaf of thin sliced bread long. It’s as raw as it is touching and both actors play it pitch perfectly. As for Mr. Scott, I wasn’t quite as convinced. For many years now my Andrew has been the only non-Jewish boy I’d ever consider marrying. I first saw him on stage at the Royal Court in Cock, and he blew me away. But his teary, slightly insipid Gethin failed to inspire. It’s a shame because he’s an amazing actor and all the components are there. He’s dealing with a HIV+ partner, a homophobic parent he hasn’t spoken to in 16 years and a pretty horrendous gay bashing, but it just didn’t quite gel for me. Equally Lisa Palfrey feels like she’s playing the same note as bitter battle-axe Maureen.
I also wondered at times if it could have been darker, but maybe it didn’t have to be. Director Matthew Warchus has a gutsy theatre background, so you’d (well I’d) perhaps expect him to push a little harder. But maybe I’m being harsh. Because actually, I walked away feeling joyful and a bit teary and, I wanted to clap. It’s no surprise that Warchus won the Queer Palm at Cannes for Pride.
Because aside from a couple of dud notes, Pride is fun, it’s tender and sensitive. It’s shot beautifully. It doesn’t trivialise, it’s not scared of the flip side and doesn’t shy away from the politics. It tugs your heartstrings, it even threatens the schmaltz, but it’s self-assured and it pulls back just in time to keep you onside. It probably helps that it’s a true story and an inspiring story at that. It helps that it’s a celebration of tolerance and decency. Pride shows the best of us Brits. When it comes down to it we bandy together and good shit happens.
The issues in the film are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. We still have entire swathes of communities on the brink, we still have a Tory government maligning those communities, we still have hate and ignorance, and we still haven’t quite shifted the horror of AIDs. But as the film points out, none of these problems are insurmountable. If we fight them together.
And that’s the message here. It ripples throughout the whole of this film. That together we are stronger, that in a world where so much can pit us against one another – race, religion, sexuality, class – the film suggests that if we just join forces, there’s probably nothing that we can’t do…
In a bittersweet but no less triumphant ending, (Spoiler Alert) the Miners lead 1985’s Gay Pride march. And as the film fades away we’re left to find out the fate of our hero’s. Sian gets her degree enters politics and becomes the first woman to represent Swansea East, Jonathan – one of the first men ever to be diagnosed with HIV – is still alive to this day but Mark dies days after finding he’s positive, and the Labour Party initiates gay and lesbian rights into its manifesto. Due in large part to the support of the Miners Unions.
Perhaps the message is a little heavy-handed, perhaps. But as an LGBT community, as a Jewish community, it does us no harm to remember it.
5 out of 5.
Pride is out now, check local press for listings.