By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Miners and gays: strange bedfellows, indeed.
Yet this was the unlikely alliance between two marginalized groups during turbulent times that is the focus of a fictionalized account of a united-we-stand true story called Pride, a rousing, satisfying historical comedy-drama.
The United Kingdom. Summer, 1984. The National Union of Mineworkers is in the midst of a year-long strike against prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s government, part of a response to the Conservative administration’s plans to close a large number of pits.
Suddenly, the Welsh miners begin receiving support from an unexpected source: a London-based group of gay-rights activists who have formed a fundraising group called, appropriately enough, “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” (LGSM).
Led by a young gay activist named Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), they set up shop, more or less arbitrarily, by relocating (via their flamboyant yellow-and-orange van) to a mining village in the Dulais Valley in South Wales called Onllwyn.
These two groups are not natural allies, to be sure, because they seem to have little in common other than the insensitivity of and mistreatment by the authorities: both oppressed communities have had their members beaten by the police, and neither group gets much sympathy in the tabloids.
In addition, resistance among the miners’ families as a result of their homophobia runs high. But at least the dated prejudice flows in only one direction, which is a start.
The gays’ strategy of good-naturedly accepting and owning the labels the miners toss at them -– “perverts,” for example — also helps.
Despite the onset of the AIDS epidemic, the more contact the two groups have, and the more pints they share, the more their shared humanity bleeds through, the more camaraderie kicks in, and the easier it is for everyone to see their commonalities as people rather than just their peculiar differences as members of different subgroups.
Following in the working-class-celebrating tradition of Brassed Off, The Full Monty, Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls, Made in Dagenham, and Billy Elliot, Pride is a British culture-clash comedy about solidarity -– how difficult it is to achieve, and how potentially beneficial it might be –- with a strong sense of time and place.
This is only the second directorial effort from Matthew Warchus, who has a stage background and debuted as a film writer-director with Simpatico in 1999. He gets uniformly excellent work from his large ensemble, which includes at least a few marquee names, including Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Consideine, and Dominic West, whose familiarity and polish add invaluably to the narrative flow.
But this is one of those ensembles in which an impressive number of characters emerge as full-bodied despite being characterized in economically short strokes.
First-time screenwriter Stephen Beresford’s accomplished script for this little-known true story is both funny and affecting. And although the screenplay has enough subplots to service a TV miniseries, the film doesn’t necessarily feel crowded.
A moving, stirring, and uplifting dramedy about overcoming bigotry, Pride is also organically funny when it wants to be and stimulatingly uncomfortable when it needs to be.
This story, by the way, would seem to suggest and deserve the documentary treatment, the result of which would certainly be more accurate and probably harder-edged than this outing. But it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable or life-affirming.
(Which probably means it would be more effective being tuned into a stage musical. Stay tuned.)
So let’s join forces and oppose 3½ stars out of 4. A period piece to be proud of that also qualifies as a crowd-pleaser, Pride is full of joy.