PRIDE is good-ish. They’re going for feelgood, and they certainly succeed in delivering that, but if you’re looking for much more then you might leave a little disappointed.
Following a chance encounter between student Joe (George MacKay) and a passionate group of gay rights activists lead by Mark (Ben Schnetzer), the group decide to stand with the plighted striking miners of a small village in Wales. While the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign and charity drive is gratefully received by some residents of Onllwyn, a key element protest support from such a source, and it is not long before unions across the UK hear of this bizarre alliance and the national press spin the story to their own ends, which leads to a landmark moment in the summer of 1984.
The film is gentle and funny and well-performed across the board. Bill Nighy hasn’t been this good in years, with an unusually understated and moving turn. We’re just so used to him hamming or adding whatever gravitas he can to stupid chunks of exposition in genre fare that it’s easy to forget he really can act. Nigh makes community leader Cliff shy and reserved but also passionate spokesman for his village, a character description fascinating in its contradictions. Also good are Jessica Gunning, Paddy Considine and Joseph Gilgun as key Onllwyn residents and one of the lower-key gay rights campaigners respectively. Oh, and Dominic West gets a fabulous dance scene. The curiously un-Welsh main cast do a fine job of putting on the accents and the inhabitants of the wider Welsh mining village sportingly engage in some light self-deprecation and stereotyping: “We don’t mind the gays and the lesbians, but don’t you dare be bringing people from North Wales down here!”.
My main problem with Pride was the almost complete lack of threat. Your comedy-drama tends to weigh a bit heavier on the former side without much jeopardy, and there is next to none of it on show here. I understand you don’t always have to actually witness atrocities, that some things imagined can have a far greater impact than what you see. This doesn’t change the fact that the film would have been more resounding had at least one darker sequence punctuated the relentless cheer and optimism. There’s a lot of talk about what indignities homosexuals and those working down the pits have endured at the hands of the government, but little evidence for it. We all know how badly the Miners’ Strikes affected the United Kingdom during the 1980s. We all know how dangerous it could still be to be a homosexual thirty years ago. But we don’t really get a feel for either. When Joe comes out to his parents, the camera pans away before we see the result, depriving us of a key moment of drama. We cut just before Gethin (Andrew Scott) is attacked in the street because he is gay.
At other points the film seems unnecessarily cut down, like we’re missing some pretty major plot and character points, despite running at just shy of two hours. Shortly after he has been cast out (offscreen) by his family for his sexuality and his involvement in the pro-miners campaign, we see Joe resolutely stride back into his family’s house after being ostracised to insult his sister and her fiancé. These are two characters we are apparently meant to dislike and take pleasure from Joe’s barbed insults despite the fact that we are meeting them for the very first time in this scene. That’s either bad writing or heavy-handed editing, and neither does a film any favours.
For a political film, Pride doesn’t seem all that political, either. The 1980s was the decade of angry UK politics, but you don’t get much a sense of that here. BILLY ELLIOT, which could be considered a companion piece, for all its romanticism, at least actually showed you the miners rioting and the consequences of the walkouts and clashes with police. This film, for all its good intentions, high-quality cast and uplifting tone lacks volatility and a powerful voice. SSP