The premise of Pride sounds like a slog: the film by British director Matthew Warchus follows a London gay and lesbian group’s fundraising campaign for mine workers who are in the midst of the nation’s longest-running strike. But instead of being a gray grind, the movie is a joyous parade. With a strong cast, a quick-moving script, and a fun soundtrack that beats through the film, Pride feels like an upbeat musical—even the most cynical viewer will find it hard not to get goosebumps as the unlikely allies pull off a rousing rendition of “Solidarity Forever.”
The film starts with bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed young activist Mark (Ben Shnetzer) in 1984, watching a news clip about the miner’s strike from a drab London flat. He’s immediately inspired to rush out the door in his jeans and black leather jacket to start collecting money for their cause—despite the fact that working-class miners have a reputation for being hostile toward anyone who even looks a bit like a “poof.” At an impromptu political meeting after a late night of partying, he points out to a cadre of skeptical queer friends that the police and Margaret Thatcher’s government are bullying the striking miners—and gays and lesbians know first-hand what police bullying is like. “What’s the point of supporting gay rights and nobody else’s?” he argues. Mark’s charisma wins out and a motley crew of comrades joins the cause.
Everyone say “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners!”
Before long, the crew is off on a roadtrip in a giant rainbow-painted van to a grim, desperate mining town in Wales—the only miners’ association that will accept a check from “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.” There, they find support from a sweet-and-steely stay-at-home-mom named Marion (the absolutely great Monica Dolan), a sweater-vested local leader, and numerous endearing elderly people who wear a lot of tweed. Of course, the incoming crowd of lesbians and gays is not universally embraced. The villains in Pride come in the form of a family with wicked bowl cuts, who scheme from their living room about how the impression of accepting support from “perverts” will ruin the strike. But in a refreshing bit of scripting, the London gays don’t swoop in to teach the small-towners about tolerance—the locals speak up for themselves about the need to accept and appreciate diversity. While the more close-minded individuals in town sneer at being friendly with the queer crowd, one of the town’s leaders delivers an eloquent little speech, “When you’re in a battle so much bigger than you, to find out you had a friend you didn’t know existed, that’s wonderful.”
When the Donna Summer tunes heat up the union hall, the whole town turns out to dance.
Pride lingers on the warm human moments of campaigning for an underdog cause. Meanwhile, all the hard work is done in montage. The hours of fundraising, the freezing cold picket lines, the scenes of a young activist coming out as gay to his angry parents, and mind-numbing strategy meetings alike are glossed over in lighting-fast flashes. That makes this film more of a go-get-em-tiger inspiration story than actually educational, but it’s also necessary for focusing down a story that could easily bloat with too many characters and complicated political drama. All the sex and violence happens off-screen too, making this a light, family-friendly movie that could easily be shown in junior high schools.
As it is, Pride feels tight, building to a crescendo as the miners’ union holds a vote on whether to continue taking the help of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners while, for their part, the London crew throws a salacious fundraiser party called Pits and Perverts. As the story moves along, almost every character gets their own time in the spotlight—there are too many moments of triumph to count and gobs of heart-warming vignettes. In one of my favorite moments, a buttoned-up elderly man in the mining town and his wife are busily making sandwiches when tells her he is gay. She calmly replies that she’s known for years and they go on as before, spreading margarine on loaves of white bread for the strikers.
These golden moments make Pride hit home even as it sings along a bit too joyfully about a dark and complex time. As David Denby noted in his New Yorker review, while the cause of gay rights has become more celebrated since the 1980s, unions have suffered the opposite fate and have continued to lose power. “Solidarity rarely outlasts the grinding movements of money and power,” writes Denby. In the end, Pride is told with a happy ending. Along the way, every character finds something to cheer for.
Related Reading — Hollywood’s Female Heroes Lack on Weapon: Humor.