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by George Sax
Perverts To Proles: “You Go Girl!”
First off, a personal disclosure: During a recent preview of Matthew Warchus’ Pride, I repeatedly found myself smiling, despite weak attempts to suppress my happy expressions. I eventually gave up trying. Pride isn’t really a comedy, but it’s filled with bright, frequently warm humor and it must be the most inspiriting, feel-good picture of the year. It’s about a decidedly unlikely but actual alliance between London gays and striking members of the British miners union in the mid-1980s. The picture is dedicated to emotional and political uplift, and it pulls out a lot of stops in trying to draw audiences in and win them over. I mostly succumbed.
Pride opens with news footage and the voice of Pete Seeger singing “Solidarity Forever.” It’s 1985 and the British mineworkers are striking against the efforts of prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government to close many of the country’s mines, and, not incidentally, reduce the power of the union and the Labor Party it supports. In a suburb Joe (George McKay) watches the television coverage of clashes in the city. He has his own reasons for wanting to get away to London. He’s a closeted youth who runs off to march with gays protesting police harassment, and finds himself pressed into an uncomfortably prominent role holding up a banner. Afterwards, he tells an urban-gritty woman that he’s never met a lesbian before and that he’s from Bromley. Eying Joe, who makes Richie Cunningham look like Dorian Gray, she replies, “No shit?” Soon he’s known as Bromley to her and all the people who congregate at a gay bookstore. Pride sometimes cheerfully deals in stereotypical, even symbolic, characters, but its knowing wit and goodwill leaven the material.
It’s a young protest leader, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer, in an intelligent, ultimately moving performance), who comes up with the idea of making common cause with the miners. The politically astute Ashton draws his comrades’ attention not only to the economic plight of the strikers and their families, but the similarities and relevance to their cause. The police concentration on repressing the union has lessened the persecution of gays. (“They’re giving those poor sods the abuse we used to get!”)
He convinces a minority of these activists to collect money in buckets on London streets in the name of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, later (mining) Pits and Perverts. Their amusing attempt to find someone to accept it proves a little tricky: They don’t know where or how to find any miners. Finally, a union rep from Onllwyn, Wales, a very surprised but grateful guy, shows up, and invites this band to visit his village.
The subsequent uncertain and difficult encounter of big-city homosexuals with proletarian Welsh villagers is the basis for much of the movie’s warmth, comedy and drama. And much of the treatment has an expectable tenor. There’s the anticipatable uneasiness, bewilderment, distaste and hostility. But then comes the gradual dissolving of reserve and resentments, culminating in a liberating disco-dancing lesson to Shirley and Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Pride makes the point that the village’s women, led by Imelda Stanton’s forthright, fearless Hefina, are more accepting than the menfolk.
Playwright Stephen Beresford’s screenplay handles a large number of characters with briefly told backstories. Beresford heard of Ashton and his campaign as a young man, but only became interested in the tale decades later, when it had largely been forgotten. Pride doesn’t ignore the uglier aspects of the period. Even in Onllwyn, there were unreconciled parties, with nasty consequences. AIDS is a background element in the movie’s story, but it’s recognized in a few incidents, one of them a short scene involving Ashton that’s subtle but resonant.
He was evidently a remarkably insightful young man who understood the need for ordinary people to band together against illicit power, regardless of social barriers and prejudice. This message, not belabored in Pride, is one that many in this country have yet to learn.
Watch the trailer for Pride
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