Friday, October 10, 2014

Pride

Review by Pamela Zoslov

“I can't change my style,” Margaret Thatcher proclaims haughtily on the telly that's playing in a London council flat. The prime minister is defending her steely stance against the unions in the brutal coal miners' strike of 1984.

Listening intently to the Iron Lady, while his lover of last night drifts out the door, is Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), a young gay man with who is committed to social justice. Not content to stand by, Mark is determined to do something to help the striking miners. The real-life efforts of Mark Ashton, with his gay and lesbian comrades, is the basis of PRIDE, a heartily engaging drama directed by Matthew Warchus, a well-regarded theater director, and written by Stephen Beresford.

The film combines the themes of gay tolerance and labor struggle, opening to the sound of Pete Seeger singing “Solidarity Forever.” Its tone is light, but it honestly depicts some realities of gay life in the mid-1980s UK, from old ladies holding signs at the Gay Pride March reading “Burn in Hell,” to a young man being put in the hospital by a gay-bashing attacker. The movie is also sentimental in ways you might expect — blue-collar Welsh miners who hate gays eventually come to appreciate their unique qualities, while others admit their own homosexuality. A son laments his 16-year estrangement from his Mum. Another young man finally stands up to his intolerant family. Along the way, there is a great deal of mid-'80s electronic pop music and club dancing. Fluidly directed and nicely edited, the movie provides the kind of moral and emotional uplift at which certain English film excel. It is MADE IN DAGENHAM meets KINKY BOOTS.

As a maligned gay man in Britain, Mark identifies with the miners' brutal treatment at the hands of the government and police. He enlists his friends at a London gay bookstore to collect funds to help the strikers in South Wales. Joe (George MacKay), a closeted 20-year-old from Bromley, joins their cause at the 1984 Gay Pride Parade, and is taken in by the group, who nickname him “Bromley.” The group, which calls itself L.G.S.M. — Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners — endures standing in the rain with collection buckets and being spat upon by passersby.

The group raises a significant sum of money and choose to donate it to the miners' union in the tiny South Wales village of Onllwyn. The miners and other villagers are grateful, if a bit alarmed, by the gay Londoners' philanthropy. They send an emissary, Dai (Paddy Considine), who stammers his thanks onstage at a gay club. “The only difference between this and a bar in South Wales,” he says with charming nervousness, “is that the women [i.e., drag queens] are a lot more feminine.”

An unorthodox alliance is formed between the L.G.S.M and the miners' union. Mark and company board an Out Loud theater group van and visit the village, where some people at the Miners' Welfare Hall welcome them warmly, while others are appalled, using the new specter of AIDS to justify their fears.

The Welsh villagers are played by some fine character actors, including Imelda Staunton (who starred in VERA DRAKE) as the wise, kindly Hefina, who takes the young gay people under her wing, and Bill Nighy as the diffident union secretary Cliff, who is led by the gays' arrival to come to terms with his own orientation. Lisa Palfrey is excellent as the glowering Maureen, widow of Cliff's brother, who enlists her sons in a sinister campaign to banish the gays from involvement with the union. As part of the campaign, a newspaper headline calls the L.G.S.M. “perverts.” Mark and company respond by embracing the term, making their new slogan “Perverts Support the Pits.”

The film weaves stories large and small into its brightly colored quilt: Joe's coming out to his family, one group member's early diagnosis of AIDS; a young Welsh woman tentatively exploring lesbianism; a splashy London fundraising concert featuring Bronski Beat; a group of ladies, staying in London with a male couple, laughing delightedly at the dildo and gay porn magazine they find hidden under the bed. The film's charm is enhanced by its music, a lively score by the aptly named Christopher Nightingale and a collection of nostalgia-inspiring mid-'80s songs by the Smiths, the Human League, Billy Bragg, Culture Club, Pete Shelley and other stalwarts of the era.

While it may be too sweetly sentimental in places, and less than historically accurate in others, Pride is a film with a strong message, delivered with exhilarating style. 4 out of 4 stars.

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