Directed by Matthew Warchus
Written by Stephen Beresford
Released May 24, 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival
Review by C. Todd White
January 11, 2015.
When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment recently released the British film Pride to the United States audience, it was met with much hoopla from the gay press.
Europe’s Pink News ran an article conducting a heteronormative deconstruction on the changes made to the U.S. version of the DVD cover. The entire package, it seems, had been straight-washed. Huffington Post took the story and ran, and things escalated. BBC, Pride’s EU distributor, said it was not surprised U.S. marketers would make such changes. CBS and Sony seemed abashed and said they would “look into it.” Once the dust cleared, the pleading yet non-apologetic voice of the film’s director simply asked that people put this bull aside and actually watch the film.
This is the same advice I have. Pride is an outstanding movie, one that artfully blends history and cinematics with a depth of passion not seen since Milk.
The story begins during the London gay pride march, June of 1984, when a young activist, Mark Ashton, gets the idea to take up a collection to support the striking coal miners. The idea catches, and soon eight gays and one lesbian band together to launch a formal campaign.
Calling itself Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, the group contacts a mining community in southern Wales, which sends a representative, Dai, to meet with them in London. On arrival, he says he isn’t surprised by LGSM’s offer, but they are nevertheless the first gays and lesbians he’d met. Due to a garbled phone message, he thought the L had stood for London! Mark flashes a clever smile and invites Dai to a gay club in order to introduce himself to the community and speak his gratitude on behalf of the miners. It’s a rough crowd, but Dai wins them over with aplomb:
What you have given us is more than money—it’s friendship. When you are in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, and you find you have a friend you never knew existed, well that is the best feeling in the world.
The miners reciprocate by inviting LGSM to their village in Wales, and our queer heroes, with the addition of two more lesbians, set off cross-country in a minibus, to win the hearts and minds of the miners. Despite the awkward introductions and palpable anxiety, the two groups manage to find common ground—in music, of course. Jonathan, the elder “gay libber” of the group (the rest are in their 20s) gets the crowd going by pulling a Travolta in the dining hall, much to the delight of the miners’ wives. A precarious bond is formed, and the story is set in motion.
Pride is a great film for many reasons. The primary protagonists, Mark and Dai, are each well contrasted to the groups they lead. Mark is sharply contrasted against Joe, the upper-class, pouty-faced bumbly from Bromley who is closeted, under aged, and still living at home. Mark is more lightly foiled against Mike, the group’s brainy pragmatist. The naive young Gen-X couple, Ray and Reggie, help us understand the more militant attitude of the “gay libbers,” Jonathan and his lover, Gethin, who owns the gay bookstore serving as LGSM’s base. Urban London is contrasted with rural Wales, working class against middle class, passivity against agency. The great strength of Pride is how deftly these contrasts are presented but not exaggerated, demonstrating that when everyone is allowed a seat at the table, amazing things can happen.
Pride is the latest of a growing genre of triumphant, post-’80s LGBT film classics. At times, viewers will be reminded of Billy Elliot, To Wong Foo, and Priscilla. But unlike its progenitors (except, of course, for Milk), this film is grounded in history. There really was a Mark Aston and Mike Jackson, and they really did start LGSM. Jonathan Blake is equally real, the second person in Britain to be diagnosed with AIDS. (He recently celebrated is 65th birthday.) Labor activists Dai Donovan and Siân James are real people, too, and after the events depicted Siân went on to be elected to parliament. While other characters are fictionalized, all go toward furthering the theme of unity through diversity. Every element of this film is purposively placed, and screenwriter Stephen Beresford deserves high commendations for this work.
Viewers on this side of the pond might wonder if there are U.S. corollaries to this story, and indeed there are. The first wave of LGBT activism, the homophile era, was born from the labor movement. The first seven founders of the Los Angeles-based Mattachine Foundation were every bit the motley bunch that we find in Pride, and they all met through an activist involvement.
Many today are surprised to learn that today’s LGBT movement sprang directly from the labor movement of the 1940s, and all of the original “Mattachinos” developed their activist chops from within the U.S. Communist party. LGBT activism was born not from the civil rights movement but from labor. It was not until the mid 1960s that it became an identity-based political movement, inspired by black activism and feminism. When gay liberationist Jonathan instructs Dai and Siân how to better gird themselves against the law, the circuit is, in a way, completed, with son now fathering the man.
There is much more to be said about his amazing and thought-provoking film. Whether its message of solidarity will resonate with atomistic America remains to be seen, but the core themes of this film are as timeless as they are wise. Even minor characters are presented in three dimensions, and the cathartic power of music and laughter keep the tale as droll as it is dramatic.
This film is a pleasure to view. Despite the marketing controversy, it deserves a place in everyone’s arsenal of cultural knowledge. Though the conflicts depicted are real and the stakes indeed high, rest assured this film will leave you feeling more pleased, more proud, and more powerful than before. It is a film that will warm your heart and remind you that even one person can make a huge difference.
©2016 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.
A version of this review was originally published in Out In Jersey magazine