Before the Miners Strike, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)’s newspaper, “The Miner”, had a Page 3 girl. For those of you reading this who aren’t British, page 3 is the bizarre and misogynist phenomenon where some of our normal mainstream daily newspapers will devote their page 3 to a huge picture of a topless woman, a “tradition” that sadly continues to this day. But due to the fantastic support of both women and groups such as Gays & Lesbians Support The Miners and the shift in understanding that came from that support, not only had they removed the Page 3 girl by the end of the strike, but marched proudly at the front of the 1985 Gay Pride parade in London.
A young man, Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is on the 1984 Gay Pride march, and he instinctively understands that if the police are attacking the miners, when before they were attacking gays, then they have common cause. That simple but incredibly powerful idea starts off the group, Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners (LGSM), centred on a gay bookshop in London. Dropped into the middle of this tumult of ideas comes Joe (George Mackay), who’s a fascinating character. He’s not out to his parents but is brave enough to go on the Gay Pride march, and from his life in the suburbs he blossoms.
For a film about an event which we know didn’t end the way we wanted, “Pride” is packed with humour. The mix of characters in LGSM is wonderful – from sensible shop owner Gethin, to his wonderfully flamboyant partner Jonathan (Dominic West), who’s gradually won over by the arguments and activity; to the couple who started off in LGSM because they just wanted an activity they could do together; to Steph, the woman who takes Joe underneath her wing. Mark is fantastic too, as is Mike, his sidekick (Joseph Gilgun).
But it’s when they meet Dai (Paddy Considine), an NUM rep from the small village that LGSM have chosen to support, that the film really kicks off. Barriers start coming down, Dai speaks at a gay bar and our heroes take a van and go to South Wales, to give the money and supplies they’ve collected and to meet the people they’re helping.
The villagers are…well, how we all are. Some of them make the same connection that Mark made, instinctively and immediately, and welcome the group with open arms, some people get lesbianism and veganism confused, some are openly hostile while some are more worried about what the outside world will think than they ought to be. But it’s extraordinarily difficult to maintain a homophobic attitude when, out of a world that tries to kick you to the ground, one of the only hands that wants to pick you up belongs to a group of gays and lesbians; and the wonderful, funny, heartbreaking main portion of the film shows how quickly people can change in times of crisis, and how friendships and bonds are formed when you stop treating people as an X, or a Y, and just treat them as a person. If you aren’t roaring with laughter when a group of people from the village visit London for the huge benefit concert LGSM have organised, visit a fairly hardcore S&M bar, then party so hard that they exhaust the gays, then I don’t think we can be friends.
One of the vitally important things about “Pride” is, no-one’s a cartoon. From the most flamboyant of the gays to the most virulently homophobic (both in the mining village and the London suburbs), everyone is shown to have an inner life. And it shows that not everyone will change, no matter how obvious the reasons are, but where the current generation may be lost to outdated ideas, the next generation will not be so encrusted in the “muck of ages”. It also shows that the gay people who didn’t support the miners had good reason – some of them came from places where they’d be beaten up by miners for their sexuality, and for others the threat of AIDS was more worthy of their time and effort. There are no obvious or easy copout answers in this. But, most importantly, it shows that when prejudice simply makes no sense anymore, people can and will change quickly.
It’s also a film packed with fantastic performances. Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning (as Sian, the woman who saw herself as just a miner’s wife but went on to become an MP), Rhodri Meilir (as Martin, Sian’s husband), Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott as Gethin…I could keep going on. There’s a real feeling that these actors know how important this is, and even the smallest character is great.
It’s not just a film about an important topic, though, it’s very well made. The Valleys of South Wales look beautiful, and there’s some really well-done mirroring of scenes throughout the film, shorthand for the changes going on. The 1980s interiors feel real and lived in too. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but the romance is between the communities, not the people. What a film! It’s heartbreakingly sad at times, and the end, when LGSM are told they can’t have political banners on the newly non-political Pride march, but then bus after bus after bus pulls up full of miners…well, it’s wonderful and sad and the perfect ending.
Full disclosure: as well as coming from several generations of miners, I am friends with one of the real-life members of LGSM, and she loves the film. It’s an absolute triumph, deserves every bit of success it has and more, and ought to be watched by absolutely everybody. That this film can be made in 2014 shows how far we’ve come, but the treatment of LGBT people round the world shows we’ve still got a long way to go. I watched this film, laughed and cried, then felt inspired to go and keep fighting to make the world a better place.
Rating: thumbs up