Stephen Laughton reviews Pride, an uplifting film starring Bill Nighy that documents the LGBT community’s support for striking Welsh miners in the 198os.
- Director: Matthew Warchus
- Starring: Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West.
- 15 cert, 120 mins
- Rating: 5 out of 5
I’m sitting in the cinema on a Saturday afternoon.
There are four elderly ladies in front of me. A smattering of couples, gay and straight alike all around. A group of girlfriends at the back. A mother and her son a few rows away.
It’s not my usual cinema crowd. In many ways that’s no bad thing, and a testament to the appeal of Pride.
You’ve probably read the articles and seen the trailers – we all know by now that Pride picks up the much-loved British mantle of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off.
We’ve guessed that it chucks in a bit of Beautiful Thing and serves it up alongside some 80’s politico pop. What I certainly didn’t expect is exactly how delectable that serving is. This film is a delight.
It has everything you’d expect.
You’ve got a shattered industrial town. An outspoken idealistic working class hero, a sensitive artist learning all about himself, and bunch of (good and bad) matriarchs.
You’ve got evil Tories, small town mentality, and a shared struggle.
There’s a fine cast of Brit gold with a smattering of exciting up and coming talent…You’ve got the threat of AIDs, the hope of better times and in the middle of it all – weaving through the very fabric of the film – you have a whole lot of heart.
London, the 1984 Gay Pride march, and bright bear cub activist Mark convinces (not quite all of) his friends to back the Miners, because they’re being oppressed too. Much like the LGBT community of the time they’re also being bullied by Conservative cruelty, and of course the popular press.
But Mark is going to save them all, whether they like it or not.
So our merry band turns up in the Dulais Valley in Wales, with some hard raised cash, and turn life upside down.
There’s chaos, laughter, drinking, firecrackers, a bit of heartbreak and lots of jokes about vegan Lesbians. Some eyes are opened, some doors are shut, but no person is left unaffected. Especially when winter hits.
The film, on the whole is superbly acted. It’s hard to choose a breakout. Relative newcomer Ben Schnetzer gives a ballsy performance in an even ballsier role.
Mark is the kind of gay man I wish I’d seen more of when I was working this whole gay thing out in the 90’s. He’s cute, he’s idealistic, he’s not scared to stick up for what he believes in and at times he acts like a bit of a dick. But he never for a second compromises his principles.
Schnetzer’s star is definitely on the rise, we last saw his touching performance as Jewish refugee Max in The Book Thief, and we’ll be seeing more of him as spoiled little rich boy Dimitri in The Riot Club. His portrayal here is as tender as it is fierce, and he more than stands tall against the bigger stars of the film.
Imelda Staunton and Dominic West, for instance, give great performances but perhaps at times feel under-used.
On the flip side, Menna Trussler steals every scene she’s in as the slightly naïve nanna Gwen. Jessica Gunning’s portrayal of Sian James is every bit the fierce lioness protecting her own pride, while Joseph Gilgun is almost unrecognisable in his role as the dependable Mike.
The real surprises for me were Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott. I’ve never been Bill’s biggest fan; there’s just something about him I’ve never quite been able to ‘get’. But his portrayal of the slightly dithering and reserved Cliff is spot on.
There’s an amazing scene with him and Imelda Staunton that’s roughly 8 lines long and consists of them buttering a loaf of thinly sliced bread. It’s as raw as it is touching and both actors play it pitch-perfectly.
As for Mr. Scott, I wasn’t quite as convinced. For many years now my Andrew has been the only non-Jewish boy I’d ever consider marrying. I first saw him on stage in a performance of Cock at the Royal Court Theatre and he blew me away. But his teary, slightly insipid Gethin failed to inspire in this film.
It’s a shame because he’s an amazing actor and all the components are there. He’s dealing with a HIV+ partner, a homophobic parent he hasn’t spoken to in 16 years and a pretty horrendous gay bashing, but it just didn’t quite gel for me.
Equally Lisa Palfrey feels like she’s playing the same note as bitter battle-axe Maureen.
I wondered at times if Pride could have been a little darker. Director Matthew Warchus has a gutsy theatre background, so you’d perhaps expect him to push a little harder. Maybe I’m being harsh.
Because actually, I walked away feeling joyful, a bit teary and wanting to clap. It’s no surprise that Pride won Warchus won the Queer Palm at Cannes.
Aside from a couple of dud notes, Pride is fun, tender and beautifully shot. It doesn’t trivialise. It tugs at your heartstrings and even threatens the schmaltz, yet it’s self-assured and pulls back just in time to keep you onside.
It helps that it’s a true story and an inspiring one at that. Also that it’s a celebration of tolerance and decency, showing the best of us Brits. When it comes down to it, we bandy together and good stuff happens.
The issues in the film are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. We still have entire swathes of communities on the brink, we still have a Tory government maligning those communities, we still have hate and ignorance, and we still haven’t quite shifted the horror of AIDs.
But as the film points out, none of these problems are insurmountable if we fight them together. In a world where so much can pit us against each other – race, religion, sexuality, class – Pride tells us that if we join forces, there’s nothing that we can’t do.
As a Jewish LGBT community, it does us no harm to remember this.
- Pride is in cinemas now
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Stephen Laughton is Arts & Entertainment Editor for HotSaltBeef&Mustard. Stephen is a playwright, script writer and former Associate Editor at literary magazine Notes from the Underground.