Following in the footsteps of The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, Matthew Warchus’ Pride is a big, broad British crowd-pleaser that focuses on the unlikely true story of a group of gay activists and their alliance with a Welsh mining community during the miner’s strike of the mid-80s.
Feeling completely disillusioned with life in Thatcher’s Britain, charismatic activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) sees the plight of the miners as similar to that of his and his friends in the gay and lesbian community. He pulls together a group of friends and forms the L.G.S.M (Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners), a group dedicated to raising funds for the striking miners.
Despite raising a significant amount of money, the miners union rejects their help so they form a partnership with a remote mining village in Wales. While mining leader Dai (Paddy Considine) cautiously welcomes the group, the rest of the miners are less enthusiastic about their new allies.
Written by actor-turned-writer Stephen Beresford, Pride is a wonderful mix of gentle humour and powerful drama, with all the social issues of the time thrown into the mix. From the ever-present homophobia to the police treatment of the miners to the growing presence of AIDS, the main story is fleshed out by a brilliant sense of time and place. The period setting is meticulously crafted through a spot-on soundtrack and excellent set design and fashions that evoke the mid-80s without resorting to too many obvious cultural touchstones.
Despite the importance of the subject matter, Pride finds relief in its humour, the bulk of which comes in the culture clash that occurs in Wales between the young, city-dwelling activists and the stuffy villagers who struggle to warm to them. Some of the jokes rely a little too heavily on pensioners saying outrageous things, particularly an old lady who has a few questions about lesbianism and Imelda Staunton’s kind busy body literally getting to grips with some sex toys.
But even the most obvious gags are played with such warmth by the excellent ensemble cast that it’s hard not to smile and that sums up Pride. It’s a little too long, a little manipulative and a little broad but despite its flaws, it is just so well-meaning, warm-hearted and joyously inspirational that it’s impossible to hate. The film reaches the peak of its crowd-pleasing powers during a dance number where Dominic West’s aging actor teaches the locals at the mining club how to cut a rug. On the face of it, it’s a preposterous scene but West sells it so blissfully that it succeeds in bringing a massive, stupid smile to the face.
Along with West, the film has many standouts. The old guard of Staunton and Bill Nighy are reliable as always and Paddy Considine gives a masterclass in hangdog charm but it’s New Yorker Ben Schnetzer who really shines. Donning a convincing Northern Irish accent to play Ashton, Schnetzer is magnetic and his passionate performance is the beating heart of the film.
And heart is something Pride has in abundance. As well-meaning, big-hearted crowd-pleasers go, they don’t come much more pleasing than this. A well cast and good humoured film that doesn’t shy away from the edgier side of its material while offering an insight into the toils of the time, this is a film that should be savoured and no doubt will be.