Inspired by a true story, Pride begins in the summer of 1984. Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers is on strike, prompting a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists to raise money to support the striker’s families. Turned down by the Union, they instead focus on a tiny mining village in Wales, and the group sets off to make its donation in person.
There are rumblings of dissatisfaction on both sides. The union members don’t want to be seen associating with a group that comes with its own socially unacceptable baggage, while members of the LGBTQ community wonder why they’re helping those who have never offered them a hand.
This is all changed when leaders on both sides, including Dai (Paddy Considine), an amiable man look for a win for his mining community and Mark (Ben Schnetzer), a passionate gay man who understands the meaning of outcast and is determined to help others, meet up. With their leaders ready to fight the good fight together, members of the respective communities follow suit, leading to one of the most joyous and crowd-pleasing films of the year.
Often times, “crowd-pleaser” films come with an eye roll or finger quotes. We’ve been led to believe over the years that films that are trying to excite, or please or reach out and touch an audience are somehow disingenuous; they shouldn’t have to try so hard. The wonderful thing about Pride is just how effortless some of its most touching moments come across. Sure, there are some wildly fun moments, such as a dance number for Dominic West’s over-the-top Jonathan, or when Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and the girls go out for a night on the town and hit the gay club scene, that toe the line between charming and kitschy. It’s the enthusiasm of the performers and the earnest nature of the script that keeps it from crossing that line and, most importantly, the plights of these outcasts that allow their moments of either triumph or cheerfulness to come across as wins rather than cheap moments of humor.
The cast for the film is so impressive that you don’t truly realize just how many greats are a part of the ensemble until you see them come to life on screen. There are veterans such as Staunton, who plays Hefina with a playful ferocity and toughness that make you believe her place in the village. There’s Bill Nighy as Cliff, playing against his typical loose and uninhibited rock-and-roll type and playing a more rigid, history and poetry loving individual who wants nothing more than the betterment of his people. Newcomer George Mackay, as the fresh-faced, closeted gay youth, offers a sturdy point-of-view character, and Faye Marsay as the lone lesbian in the advocacy group bring as many of the laughs as the in-your-face Steph. Dominic West is lovely as the oldest member in the Gays and Lesbians for the Minors group, and shows a more relaxed side of the actor that is rarely seen. However, my favorite performance comes from Andrew Scott as Gethin, a gay Welsh man whose nationality is something he grapples with, and his sweet vulnerability is well played against West’s brash confidence. I always enjoy watching Scott perform; his face is shockingly expressive and you can read the emotions as he’s playing them out. He’s an oddball performer, and unlike many of his contemporaries, he’s “unique”; not an adjective I toss out without thought. Schnetzer is the other standout, and more of the surprise considering his other big notable performance came from The Book Thief last year, which hardly made an impression despite a strong turn. Here, he has to be believable as a leader, as well as play elusive enough so that there is an air of mystery to him, and he does so perfectly.
The film is made by its cast. Despite a strong script and lively direction, if the cast hadn’t gelled, if they hadn’t fit well or played effortlessly off one another, the results would have been very different. If I were to have one complaint about the cast it would simply be that Joe Gilgun wasn’t utilized nearly enough.
Director Matthew Warchus and screenwriter Stephen Beresford have made a film that is unabashedly excited to be told. There’s an unfiltered love for the story that they’re telling, and a want to tell it in such a fashion that expels any false note. There’s a joyful aspect to this film that had people laughing loudly and cheering at the characters’ high notes and feeling their low moments deeply. It plays into what makes cinema such an example of escapism; we watch good people, underdogs, try to overcome great odds and supreme oppressors in order to reach their goals of equality and happiness, told by game performers.
Pride is a story about real people fighting real problems, and while not every fight comes with an unquestioned victory, watching their process is another. Sure, there are some moments that are contrived to create sentimentality in a film that doesn’t need it, but even the forced sentiment rings true. This will easily end up being one of my favorite films of the year, because the filmmakers’ intentions were to create a great and enjoyable film and one that an audience would walk out of feeling a high from. I escaped into the film, I loved the characters, I loved where they lived, and I loved their passion for what they wanted and how they went about getting it.
I love films about people, and Pride is an example of some of the best kind.
Pride is in theaters now.