Hanging from the upper windows of an apartment block where it can be seen by everyone, including a reporter’s camera, is a bright red flag with the words Thatcher Out painted across the front. It’s one of the first sights you’ll see during the opening moments of the new real-life drama Pride from Gt. Britain and it sets off an immediate tone of defiance; one that lasts throughout and diminishes only during the final seconds at the fade out.
For those who lived under the polarizing, steely rule of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the 80’s, seeing Thatcher Out signs all over the country were common; particularly in the mining communities of Northern England, Scotland and Wales hit the hardest by Thatcher’s carefully designed, damaging union busting tactics. For those unaffected by her policies, particularly overseas admirers whose knowledge of Thatcher’s style of control was filtered through positive media portraits of an uncompromising leader, the level of home-turf hatred directed at the woman must be confusing. Why would a nation feel such venom towards a leader up until the day she died, and why would radio stations repeatedly play Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead to loud cheers when she passed away? Films like Brassed Off and Billy Elliot gave an indication, and now so does Pride, the true story of a small and desperate mining community in Wales given financial aid from the most unlikeliest of sources – a young gay and lesbian activist group based in London.
“These communities are being bullied just like us,” declares gay activist Mark Ashton (Ben Scnetzer) looking for a cause to help. Mark, a real-life gay activist who died of aids in 1987, points out to his fellow activists that the miners are hated by the police, by Thatcher’s government and by the media. The two groups – the gays and currently the miners – have so much in common. In desperate times, one should help the other.
When the National Union of Mineworkers ignores the help of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) campaign, the group decides to cut the middle man and go straight to the miners themselves. At random they pick a mining community – Onllwyn, South Wales – collect some money standing on street corners with buckets, and turn up on the doorstep of the Dulais Valley lodge volunteering their help. “Dai,” one of the local ladies of the village calls out to the one man who actually took the call from the LGSM (Paddy Considine), “Your gays have arrived!”
As expected, not everyone in the village warms to the help of the men and the one woman of the LGSM. Old prejudices and bigotry built on years of misinformation and negative stereotypes raise their ugly heads. Bricks are thrown, taunts are shouted, and a little old lady with a Burn in Hell banner sneers at the LGSM members as they parade by. But others in the village warm to the flamboyant strangers, enjoying the company of those who are willing to give while asking for nothing in return. When a woman from the village socializes with a gay couple for the first time in her life she asks of them the one thing that has always been on her mind when it comes to two gay men living together. “Which one does the housework?” she inquires.
With a wonderful cast of great British character actors including Bill Nighy as Cliff, a mild mannered though respected Welshman of the community, Imelda Staunton as Hefina, a feisty local housewife who takes nonsense from no one, and Andrew Scott (perhaps best known as Moriarty in TV’s Sherlock) as Gethin, a gay Welshman estranged from his mother for years, Pride works so well for several reasons. The plot brims with conflicts – both personal and political – yet it never feels preachy or stretching points further than it should. The alliance between the tough miners and the LGSM once defenses are down is literally heartwarming without appearing sentimental, and the humor with the drama is evenly balanced making every scene work with crowd-pleasing results. When a husband exchanges a friendly handshake with an LGSM member, he unknowingly lowers his manly voice when saying his name. “You don’t have to do the full Barry White,” the man’s wife declares. “He knows you’re heterosexual.”
Without knowing reasons behind the strike, there may be some who’ll question why the stoppage lasted almost a year, what was at stake and why the strikers didn’t simply go back to work once it was clear that the rent would never be met, the power would be turned off and families could potentially starve. Pride doesn’t give a background. In Britain there’s an assumption that everyone will know, but overseas audiences may question certain motivations. Thatcher wanted to close twenty coal mines with a long term policy of eventually closing more than seventy. More importantly, she wanted to bust the power of the unions who were seen as responsible for the removal of the Conservative party during the 70’s. “The pit and the people are one of the same,” declares Nighy’s Cliff in an uncharacteristic moment of frustration. “That’s what I’d tell Margaret f*#@ing Thatcher!”
The film hints at the bullying devices of the police under the government’s direction, though we never see it – Thatcher’s government shipped in outside police forces employing ruthless tactics to break the strike fearing that local village officers would be too sympathetic – plus while there’s a lot of talk of how desperate many of the families have become, particularly after the prime minister intentionally cut unemployment benefits in an effort to squeeze the families further – the film doesn’t succeed in showing it in the way Billy Elliot portrayed families being town apart. The overall anger is missing.
But there’s so much to savor. Even though we know the downside – the strikers lost, communities were town apart, families were split with some members to this day unable to talk to each other – the film manages to end on a upbeat note where support is reversed and members of the mining community pay it back by turning up in London to support the LGSM in a parade. Plus, the film has the rhythm of a musical. The upbeat soundtrack reflects not only an early 80’s disco accompaniment, the music in all its forms becomes an accessory to the story. When one of the local Welsh ladies stands in the middle of a crowded working man’s social club and starts to sing a local song of solidarity and defiance, voices around her join in until the whole room becomes one. There’s a saying in Britain regarding the singing Welsh: When one Welshman sings it’s a solo; when two sing it’s a choir. Here in Pride, when the whole room full of Welshmen and women sing it’s inspirational.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 120 Minutes Overall rating: 9 (out of 10)