The truth, goes the saying, is often stranger than fiction.
Pride, for instance, is set in 1984, and tells the story of a small group called LSGM, or Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners. Said group sparks into life in the midst of a Gay Pride march in London, when a 20-year old by the name of Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) argues that miners have been as badly treated by the establishment as they have, and thus starts collecting money. As it turns out, quite a bit of money.
The problem? Once that money is raised, finding a community of miners willing to accept the cash is easier said than done. Manly miners taking money off a gay support group, in a period when prejudice – as the film highlights – was not rare? Mark, more than once, finds nobody wants to be linked with his LGSM group.
But eventually, his call is answered, and an unlikely link is formed with a small mining village in South Wales, eventually prompting a bus trip to visit the place. The inevitable culture clash that follows is superbly handled, but as it turns out, that’s just part of what Pride sets out to explore. Laughs may be the top priority for large chunks of the movie, after all, but here’s a film with a lot of ambition, and plenty to say.
For this is a piece of work with serious foundations. So we meet Joe, for instance, played by the excellent George MacKay, who’s gradually being more open with his sexuality, but still finds himself living a lie at home. Meanwhile, Andrew Scott’s Gethin is nursing a secret about his past, whilst the flamboyance of Dominic West’s Jonathan has more to it than it seems as well. Pretty much every character here is facing something.
Things amongst the miners aren’t much clearer, as Pride continues to layer in subplots. Against a backdrop of the AIDS scare of the early 80s, and the misunderstandings permeated by a notoriously terrifying television ad campaign (that’s referenced in the film), it would be fair to say that not every miner in the village is keen to meet their new benefactors. That’s just one of a list of problems they face themselves, though. Growing poverty, secrets and prejudices of their own, and a feeling of being ostracised by the state for standing up for what they believe in are just some of the issues never far under the surface.
Commendably, Pride doesn’t seek to judge. It contextualises people’s individual fears and feelings, gradually exploring the similarities that the members of LGSM and the miners themselves share, with shades of what sets them apart too. What’s perhaps most remarkable is how it wraps this into such a wildly entertaining film, albeit one with a hard edge to it. Everything we’ve talked about thus far could form the foundation of a dark, gritty British drama. But writer Stephen Beresford has other ideas. He’s taken the ingredients and gone for a broad, hugely satisfying comedy instead. His excellent screenplay meticulously balances huge servings of well-tuned crowd-pleasing fun with requisite amounts of steel. Furthermore, he and director Matthew Warchus prefer to give you just what you need to know in a scene before then cutting away, leaving you to fill in a gap or two. Pride, amongst its many qualities, is a film that treats its audience with intelligence.
It also boasts an excellent cast, some of whom are in the comedy form of their careers. Imelda Staunton for a start is simply superb here. Tearing into the material with glee, her ability to induce snorts of laughter has never been better demonstrated. More than once, she all but brings the house down, proving her expertise in pitch-perfect delivery of a comedy line. Bill Nighy is no slouch there, either, knowing just when to land his comedy punches.
Paddy Considine shoulders his fair share of the dramatic work, at one point giving a speech that convincingly turns what could be a less receptive crowd (again, for reasons the film explains) into a far friendlier one. And in truth, there’s no weak link here. It’s arguably Dominic West’s best big screen role, for instance, while Andrew Scott brings pathos and control to a difficult part. A brief, haunting cameo from Russell Tovey sticks long in the mind too.
But then there’s Ben Schnetzer. Effectively the front and centre of the movie, he leads the ensemble with star-making style. Given that the film is full of potential breakout talents, he’s the one who grabs every moment in a movie not short of scene-stealers.
Cut very much from the same cloth as The Full Monty and Brassed Off, in that it underpins exquisite comedy with deathly serious commentary about the state of British industry, Pride deserves the broad success of both. Its uncanny ability to say plenty, in the midst of the funniest comedy of the year, is a huge achievement.
On the downside, there’s the odd moment where you could argue it slightly overplays its hand. Furthermore, Pride does suffer from Return Of The King ending syndrome just a little, in that it teases a few possible concluding scenes before arriving at the one that fits best. But it’s a small concession to a rollicking good night out at the movies, that leaves plenty to chew on for days afterwards.
In a year where comedies have been regularly delivering the laughs – 22 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie, for instance – Pride is the best of the lot. Bursting with heart, exquisite moments and food for thought, it’s a five star night out at the movies. Bluntly, whatever Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie took at the box office, Pride deserves many, many times as much. This deserves to be a huge hit.
Pride is out in UK cinemas on the 12th September.
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