Coal miners, gay activists join forces in exuberant ‘Pride’
They were not the most natural allies you could imagine: a clutch of hip, scrappy, young gay and lesbian activists from London and the working-class denizens of a remote Welsh coal-mining village far, far away from the madding crowd.
Yet these two diverse groups made history together with an audacious show of solidarity during Britain’s lengthy miners’ strike of 1984. And now their story is dramatized with plenty of heart, humor, and verve in Pride, a crowd-pleasing valentine to diversity from director Matthew Warchus.
Scripted by Stephen Beresford, Pride invites viewers into a pivotal moment in social and political history. In 1984, smack in the middle of Margaret Thatcher’s iron-fisted, union-busting tenure as Prime Minister, the notion of an out and loud gay pride was only just emerging from the closet, blinking its way out into the daylight. When the National Union of Mineworkers in Britain launched what became a year-long strike for improved conditions, putting their jobs and families on the line for basic human rights, a collective of gay activists in London felt a sense of kinship and decided to help publicize their plight.
Warchus and Beresford assemble a mixed cast of historical and fictional characters to tell their story. At its center is Mark Ashton, the real-life gay activist played in the film by Ben Schnetzer (almost unrecognizable from his last role, as the Jewish youth hidden in the basement in The Book Thief). Leader of an informal group of like-minded, politically savvy folk who meet at a Soho bookshop, Mark forms the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), and takes to the streets with his friends to collect money, food and clothes for the striking miners and their families.
They’re a mixed lot, from intellectual strategist, Mike (Joseph Gilgun) to plucky orange-haired Steph (Faye Marsay) to flamboyant Jonathan (very nicely played by Dominic West), the second man in Britain to be diagnosed HIV-positive. His partner, sensible, grounded, welsh-born Gethin (Andrew Scott) runs the bookstore and has his own demons to face in Wales. (Scott is best known to US TV fans as “Jim Moriarty” in Sherlock.) A principal story arc concerns 20-year-old Joe (the appealing George MacKay), nicknamed “Bromley” for his suburban neighborhood, who gains the courage to claim his identity through LGSM.
There’s dissention in the ranks from both sides the first time the activists drive their “Out Loud” bus over the Severn Bridge to the tiny South Wales hamlet where they deliver their donations. But the film is fueled by smaller stories within the bigger picture of individuals battling their own prejudices and learning to work together. When Jonathan’s dance moves make him a hit with the ladies at the miners’ club, the local toughs start begging him for lessons. When a conservative newspaper rails against their new alliance as “Pits and Perverts,” Mark organizes a Pits and Perverts benefit rock concert back in London that raises thousands of pounds for the miners.
Paddy Considine is terrific as Dai, the miners’ spokesman, who delivers a tentative, yet disarmingly funny speech in a gay bar in London and becomes the activists’ strongest ally. Imelda Staunton is fun as a little bulldog of a Welsh matron, herding the miners and their new allies together, and Jessica Gunning is irresistible as Sian James, a Welsh housewife who reinvents herself through her friends in the LGSM. (The real-life James went on to college and eventually was elected to Parliament.) And the always wonderful Bill Nighy plays a strike committee member; his reflective speech about “the pit,” the seam that runs through multiple continents, and how those who work it are “all the same,” whether in Wales, Spain, or Pennsylvania, becomes the heart of the film.
Pride glosses over some facts; it never acknowledges the real-life Mark Ashton’s commitment to the Communist Party, which inspired his progressive politics. Yet it succeeds as an entertaining, often deeply affecting, and exuberantly told blueprint for tolerance and solidarity—against all odds.
PRIDE ***1/2 (out of four) With Ben Schnetzer, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, and Bill Nighy. Directed by Matthew Warchus. A CBS Films release. Rated R. 120 minutes. PHOTO: ‘Pride’ remembers a pivotal moment in social political history, where gay activists teamed up with striking miners in Wales.