1984-85 – the Miners’ Strike. Those were hard times. Daily news coverage of clashes between strikers, police, pickets, “scabs”; daily coverage of families scrabbling around for food; daily coverage of resolute politicians from all parties refusing to compromise; daily coverage of the gladiatorial combat between Thatcher and Scargill. No matter your own politics, people and communities were suffering. No matter where you lived or whether you were directly affected or not, nobody was immune from this strike. Even in leafy Buckinghamshire where I lived, about as far away from a coalfield as you could get, I wore my “Coal not dole” badge. We’d buy extra tins of food at the supermarket and donated them to the miners’ stall outside. I also remember feeling very relieved that I hadn’t been shortlisted for an interview for the job I applied for working in management at the National Coal Board a couple of years earlier.
Like Billy Elliott and The Full Monty, Pride is another British film that takes those savage days and creates something really positive out of them. But whereas those other films are works of pure fiction, Pride tells the true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group, operating out of the Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury, the characterful activists who worked there and raised funds for the miners, and of their association with the Dulais mine in South Wales, and their wish to help the community there. But the course of true altruism never runs smoothly, and not everyone in those traditional, working-class, chapel, areas relished the attention of a diverse bunch of homosexuals from London. In the course of the film friendships are forged, fortresses are broached, seemingly insurmountable differences are reconciled and those few people who cannot find it in their heart to overcome their prejudices are left behind.
Essentially this is a film about solidarity. The gay activists have solidarity with the miners, as an oppressed minority supporting another oppressed minority. There are also questions of solidarity between the members of each side of the equation – the differences of opinion within the LGSM group, and between the different families in the mining community. Activist Gethin was estranged from his mother for many years but regains support from her when she eventually comes back into his life. The opposite is the case for young Joe, whose supportive family turn against him when they discover his secrets. And it is indeed also a film about pride. Pride in who you are and what you can do when the world is not your friend. Pride that gives you the self-confidence to go out on a limb and to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a badge of honour – like the successful “Pits and Perverts” fund-raising event, taking Rupert Murdoch’s attempt at an insult and using it as a mission statement. Anything that sticks two fingers up at The Sun is Fine By Me.
Top billing is given to Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, who are indeed excellent. Mr Nighy plays Cliff, the quiet, thoughtful but passionate Elder Statesman of the mining community, delightfully unfazed by the arrival of the gays; and Ms Staunton is Hefina, one of the strike committee women, endlessly fighting for the survival of the community. Her staunch approach to equality is heart-warming to watch, and there’s one hilarious scene where she and her ladies discover a stash of gay porn – I don’t think naughty laughter has ever sounded so funny.
But these are relatively small roles, and I was really impressed by some of the other younger and maybe less well known performers. Ben Schnetzer is brilliant as Mark Ashton, the Northern Irish Communist leader (or as close to a leader as they got) of the LGSM. Brash yet vulnerable, you find yourself willing him through all his challenges and really admiring his indomitable spirit. Jessica Gunning plays a feisty Siân, idealistic but very practical, irritated by her husband’s lack of backbone. There’s a wonderful scene when she gives the police what for – it’s a great example of an ordinary person becoming assertive against authority and it’s really funny. Andrew Scott gives a very touching performance as Gethin, ill at ease, verging on depressed, full of sadness for the family life he has had to leave behind; and Dominic West gives a really strong performance as Gethin’s partner Jonathan, in real life the second person ever to be diagnosed as HIV positive, giving it large on the dance floor much to the delight of the Welsh women and inspiring some of the Welsh men to loosen up a bit too.
There is excellent support from Faye Marsay as the punky Steph, at first the lone lesbian sticking up for her rights within the group; Paddy Considine as Dai, the visionary local mining leader who had the guts to have the initial meeting with the LGSM and convinced his community that the two groups have more in common than not; and Lisa Palfrey as the hard-hearted Maureen who cannot be shaken from her prejudiced and vindictive viewpoint. There’s a great comic performance from Menna Trussler as Gwen, who’s curious to know absolutely everything about lesbians and greets them regularly with disarming joy. But perhaps best of all is George Mackay as young Joe, tentatively finding his feet and discovering who he is, a character who brings to mind aspects of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. It’s a very moving performance. Keep your eye out for a few excellent cameos too, including Russell Tovey as an ex-boyfriend of Mark who clearly hasn’t resolved being “ex-“, and a terrific one-liner from veteran comedy actress Deddie Davies.
It’s a beautifully written film that never shies away from the gritty reality of the situation faced by both groups, nor does it descend into sentimentality. It’s full of exhilarating characters and has some very funny lines, and there’s an enormous feelgood factor about the whole film. My guess is that if you’re a right-wing homophobe there’s not going to be much in this film to entertain you; but you’d probably be put off by the title anyway. The final credits tell you what happened to some of the characters in the intervening years. Some of it will astonish and delight you; some of it will leave you with a heavy heart. A really rewarding look back at a time of conflict and how solidarity, tolerance and equality grew from it. Like a fine wine, this film is going to get even better in the years to come.