Monday, 22 September 2014

PRIDE film review

THERE IS POWER IN A UNION

If you only go and see one film this year, make it this quietly powerful tribute to people power and self-belief.

'The Pit and the people are one and the same.'

It's 1984 and the miners are on strike. I remember it happening. I remember watching the television news and seeing picket lines being battered and split by the imported battalions of the Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group. I was at art college in Maidstone, trying to work out what I wanted from life and who I was, and The Smiths and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were on Top of the Pops.

That's pretty much where Pride starts. Like most films that deal with this kind of social history, we then follow a young ingenue on his/her rite of passage, in this case Joe (George MacKay), or 'Bromley' as he's known throughout. He tentatively joins a polticised group of gay people from Brixton during June 1984's Gay Pride demo, and their charismatc ringleader Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) later suggests that to stick it to PM Margaret Thatcher and forge solidarity with another persecuted minority, they start collecting money for the strikers as Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners - LGSM.

So far so good, but Pride then turns into a story you really couldn't make up. Beyond the 1980s nostalgia - those fashions are accurate. I should know: I wore them - this film is about really important stuff, namely breaking down bigotry and prejudice, not being frightened of what other people think and standing up for your beliefs when you're bullied. Yes, it is about the initially awkward coming together of London's gay community and the Welsh miners and what each group learns from the other, but it's also a metaphor for anyone who's ever been victimised for what they've stood up for. Moreover, the film does it without being preachy and right-on and with a massive red dildo and a dirty Welsh laugh never very far away.

'We're off to Swansea for a massive les-off.'

The film is full of everyone's favourite actors. Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy are quiet and dignified as open-minded Welshmen; the great Dominic West is highly entertaining, never more so than when he shows the miners and their families how to disco dance in the scene that'll be shown on all the clips shows, and Imelda Staunton is fiesty and believable as a principled support committee member. In less showy roles, Faye Marsay (Steph), the suddenly very busy Liz White and, particularly, Andrew Scott as the exiled Gethin - patching things up with his estranged mother after sixteen years and on the receiving end of what used to be called 'gay bashing' - are all exceptional. A special mention, too, for Russell Tovey's terrifying cameo as Tim, an AIDS victim who's 'not been home for four days' and is on 'a farewell tour'.

While the broad sweep of Pride is worth the price of admission, it's the keenly observed period details which help to make it such a winner. Bromley's very out gay mates don't give him a hard time because he pretends to his parents he's been on a pastry-making course when he's out fundraising with them; Mark is told 'there are no gay artists on this label' in the reception of a record company which has posters of Elton John and Soft Cell on its walls and dear old Mary Whitehouse, the moral bete noire of everyone from Dr. Who to David Bowie, even gets a mention. In a quietly powerful moment, Nighy and Staunton are seen buttering sandwiches which have no fillings, which tells you all you need to know about how far the miners were from starving - only thirty years ago. My favourite joke in the film is at LGSM's Electric Ballroom fundraising gig, when a London drag queen appears done up as 'Martha Scargill'.

'Didn't you hear about the miners, dearie? They lost.'

What's paticularly commendable about Pride is that while it bangs the drum for two defining '80s causes, it doesn't shy away from opposing points of view. Maureen Barry (played by Lisa Palfrey), disgusted by the LGSM's support, could have been a walking cliche, but her only real crime is ignorance; she's also concerned about her two sons and afraid of the strikers being ridiculed in the right-wing press - ironically, considering she sells the story about LGSM to The Sun. In the gay community, quite a few of Mark and Gethin's friends refuse to help because of the abuse they received growing up in Wales and when the latter is fundraising on the streets, he's bluntly told he should be collecting for the 'gay people [who] are dying every day.'

As a corollary of the LGSM's activism, lesbian and gay rights were enshrined in the Labour manifesto, largely through a block vote from the Mineworkers' Union. Looked at from 2014 where gay marriage is an accepted part of everyday life and I can go with my Mum to see a film like this, what the LGSM and the miners achieved really is bloody amazing.

Pride is a modern fairytrale, except - a lot of - it actually happened. Go see.

The music: The Smiths - 'What Difference Does It Make?'; Pete Shelley - 'Homosapien'; Dead or Alive - 'You Spin Me Round'; Bronski Beat - 'Why?'; King - 'Love and Pride'; Frankie Goes To Hollywood - 'Two Tribes' / 'Relax'; Culture Club - Karma Kamelion; Billy Bragg - 'Power in a Union'

2 comments:

  1. Great review. One of my favourite films of 2014

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  2. Cheers Fiona. One of my mum's favourite's, too.

    ReplyDelete