“If we were normal,” a lesbian suggests to her gay male best friend in the movie Pride, “this is when we’d kiss.” A line like that wouldn’t get past the P.C. police in Hollywood, but Stephen Beresford and Matthew Watchus—the writer and director of Pride—aren’t afraid to depict their young characters’ honest, complicated feelings. Their sense of being gay makes them self-conscious about their affections and their eagerness to be intimate and fully sensitive—a rare insight.
That’s one of Pride’s many appealing scenes that go back to primal moments of gay awareness. Set between 1984-1985 when a Gay Pride March and Margaret Thatcher’s handling of the British miner’s strike were defining events in the characters’ lives, the true-story Pride finds compassion and commonality in struggles that at first seem unlike each other: Restless young London activist Mark (Ben Schnetzer who, perfectly, resembles ‘80s pop singer Billy Mackenzie), convinces friends, including closeted youth Joe (George MacKay) to support a small Welsh town of striking miners. Accepting financial relief and food stuffs from Mark’s Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners coalition (LGSM), the miners themselves come to understand their mutual desires.
Not simply a gay agenda movie (though celebrating gayness as a political imperative is certainly a goal), Pride showcases the complex needs that inspire political action. Pride is not a great movie, but it’s laid-out like one. The opening Thatcher quote is ambivalent: “One isn’t here to be a softie; one is here to be a strong leader.” That applies to Mark, Joe, LGSM, and the villagers of Dulais, South Wales, who must lead themselves out of traditional fear and prejudice.
Enjoyable (if overlong), Pride confirms how expert British filmmakers are at balancing bemused social observation with political urgency. Pride belongs to the tradition of Brassed Off!, The Full Monty, Kinky Boots, Beautiful Thing, Stonewall, Among Giants, Different for Girls and Made in Dagenham—some better than others—that show politics of life situations with more feeling than propagandizing. Americans can’t do that; always evading class realities forces Americans into self-righteousness to cover-up guilt about their social privileges. The sense of solidarity in Pride comes from realizing (believing) everyone’s similarities. Cheeky Mark and straight—and straight-laced—miner Dai (the always engaging Paddy Considine) share a credible ideological and moral rapport.
At first, gays and miners in Pride recall the old hippie vs. hardhats schism of America’s Vietnam-era generation gap but resolving that tense social reality is part of the ongoing history the filmmakers tell. As women speak up (tough and kind Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning) and gays show courage, this real-life story gains an almost fairytale (tears plus cheers) satisfaction. And its musical accompaniment is crucial: Shirley & Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” breaks the ice among the social opposites and “What Difference Does It Make,” “You Spin Me Round,” “Smalltown Boy,” “Situation” fill-in the cultural context. “God, I miss Disco,” exclaims Dominic West as Jonathan, the lushly masculine AIDS patient who gets the party started.
Dance away the Socialist anthems (by Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg) that bookend the movie and some occasional strident point-making. Pride yet has some of the most subtly powerful moments in any movie this year. Two stand out: When Joe at a rally gets his first kiss in the shadows and Mark’s brief, haunting reunion with an old flame (Abram Rooney).
Deep feeling and a feel-good vibe are rare for gay movies which from Mysterious Skin to Stranger By the Lake and The Normal Heart typically embrace pathology. Even intelligent directors like Ira Sachs, who always shows a morbid streak, forsake showing the peoplehood that is a political essential. Pride reverses that perverse pride in misery. Pride’s feel-good vibe captures that necessary shift when, through solidarity, gay rights marches around the world became pride marches.
Pride is in cinemas Sept. 26