Stephen Beresford interview: looking back at Pride

The BAFTA award-winning writer of Pride looks back at the release of the film, its impact, and Pride: The Musical.

Regular readers of this site will know how strongly we feel about the excellent movie Pride, which we ranked as one of our firm favourites of 2014. We spoke to writer Stephen Beresford ahead of its release, and since then, he’s picked up a BAFTA for his work on the movie.

We caught up with him for a chat looking back at the last six months, as Pride arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK…

I wanted to catch up with you to get the ‘during’ and ‘after’ story for Pride, as we spoke originally just before it’s release.

You have that lovely line in the film – “to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well that’s the best feeling in the world”. This film has ended up having lots of friends, and I think you were getting a flavour of that just before release. But what happened next? How was the release period, and how did that impact on you?

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Well, from the very beginning really. Apart from testing it, the first time we ever had a public reaction was the Cannes Film Festival. That was interesting, as we arrived and it was a weird thing. The screening was at 10am, and there was a slightly gloomy atmosphere. People were saying they didn’t know how it would play. Lots of people had said to me that the film was a difficult sell, although I knew that before we made the film. When we went down for the 10am screening, I genuinely had no idea what it was going to be like.

They asked us if we wanted to listen to the last five minutes [of the screening], and we decided we would. And we walked in, and it was this extraordinary atmosphere. There was this incredible response to everything. They were laughing, which was unusual. And as the final credits rolled, they started to applaud the individual card for each character. It was like they were watching a play.

Then it ended, and they just stood up. They stood up for 15 minutes. It was absurd. We walked on the stage, and stood there with all these people applauding.

After five minutes, it goes to rhythmic applaud, which is quite extraordinary, as you just stand there. In the end, it’s a really weird feeling. Your impulse is to raise your hand to tell people to stop applauding, but nobody wants you to do that. All the people at the back are sitting there with their timings, working out if you got a longer standing ovation than Mike Leigh.


Yeah. They time it. In the end I remember saying to George MacKay, “I like your shoes”. Because there was nothing you could do! We ended up having a conversation on the stage.

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That was the first, biggest, probably most extraordinary event. From then on, we got told a lot that people applauded the film in cinemas around the country. The story had an effect. Throughout really, we had some extraordinary fans of the film. People who have come along and really loved it, unexpected people.

Did you experience any of these audience rounds of applause yourself? I certainly saw it happen.

I haven’t seen it, no. But the other day I was on a flight back from America, and the film is now on airlines. So I did walk up and down to see if anyone was watching it, but nobody was! Mind you, I watched Gone Girl.

You seem to have had a strong reaction from two sides here. That there’s a lot of high profile people who really warmed to the people, but perhaps more importantly, a groundswell of support amongst the likes of us who go to our local cinema. Many people didn’t quite know what they were going to get, and were coming out hugely impressed. Were you around at all in the UK during the release?


So how closely did you monitor that, then? Because this is your first film?

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I did monitor it, because it was my first. I remember my first play was at the National Theatre. It had Julie Walters, Helen McCrory and Taron Egerton in it, it was his first job.

I remember we were sitting at lunch, and we talked about reading reviews. And everyone said that none of them read reviews. Taron looked crestfallen, and Helen said that you will read reviews, because it’s your first job. You’ll stop reading reviews on your second job. It’s sort of true. The same thing’s happened to me here. I read the reviews because it was my first film. I probably wouldn’t read them on a second film, because it’s important you free yourself from that, else you’ll never write anything again. It’s a trap, reviews I think. But I did see what was happening. The things I find really incredible is powerful response people seem to have to it. That was my favourite thing to read about. Watching people on Twitter talking about it was nice. And in all that, then you get Russell Brand going mad about it, which was nice! But it’s all crazy really.

I was here. But as soon as it opened here, we were in a circus that’s only now coming to an end. The night after the London premiere, we were at the Paris premiere. Then it was America, Germany, Italy, all over the show.

I believe I predicted your BAFTA success for this one before the film’s release. And you won. I watched the ceremony from the comfort of my armchair, and it seemed that the reaction to Pride winning a BAFTA was the loudest of the night. But what do you remember? Was it all a blur? And how much do you hold with awards?

I remember almost nothing of the experience of standing on stage! I remember them saying my name, and after I came off the stage, I was really worried I’d made a dick of myself, or left people out. It’s extraordinary that it’s completely vanished, like it didn’t happen!

It’s an interesting thing about awards. I’m slightly of the no prizes, no punishment school of thought myself. They are exactly what they are, they mean no more and no less. That’s a politician’s answer! What is true about awards is that whatever you win, the next morning or the day after, whenever, you still sit down in front of a screen and have to start writing. It doesn’t make any difference to that. It doesn’t make you any better at it, it doesn’t make you more confident at it. I thought it might, but it doesn’t.

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Although my agent said afterwards, now we can put the prices up!

The point about confidence is an interesting one. People who write across media can relate to that I think: that you’re sat in front of a blank screen, and the pressures remain exactly the same, BAFTA or otherwise. Confidence is a huge thing, not least for a writer.

You have to have some confidence. There’s already some there, else you couldn’t write at all. So you’ve got some, but having won the BAFTA, it didn’t make me think ‘that’ll show ’em’! At the moment, I’m just starting new stuff, Pride has been put to bed a little. It’s still terrifying.

Is there pressure from the other side then? That you’ve had such a success, that it plays on your mind a little?

I think it does. I think the fact that the film was a success, and critically a huge success, and that it made an impact. That people are now interested in what I do next. There’s a wonderful feeling where nobody knows who you are. Obscurity is a great comfort. You’re free to do anything. Now there’s an interest in what I do next, and that’s a sort of pressure. It’s made me think of those choices a bit. The first thing that happens when you have a success is that people want you to replicate it precisely.

Ah, Pride 2 then!

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I’ve been offered an awful lot of underdog stories!

I’d imagine what changes at least in the eye of a success is the phone calls you get. That you get offered things that you weren’t offered before, maybe a big Hollywood franchise, The Hangover 4 phone call or something. Are there further temptations at least in front of you? Were you getting those kind of calls, and are you sticking to your ideas?

I’m happy with doing someone else’s ideas, but what I don’t find enjoyable is writing other people’s characters. So I wouldn’t want to do a sequel I don’t think. Never say never. I’ve never written an episode of someone else’s TV show, because that doesn’t really appeal. I don’t know how to do it.

Those calls do change. Once Pride was out, I think the BAFTA does increase that too. But I think what matters is that, as someone put to me, you’re good because of what you don’t put out as much as what you do. I believe that. So you have to be so careful. It’s so easy to say I’ll do all these things I’ve been offered, or because it’s high profile or whatever. It’s choosing. That’s really important.

Did you ever get a Pride 2 or Pride: The Musical phone call?

Well, Pride The Musical was always talked about because it was a very obvious idea. Matthew and I both have theatre backgrounds, and Matthew’s created a lot of musicals. We’ve talked about putting it on the stage in some form or another. That’s something I can understand.

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Pride 2?! There’s nowhere to go with that. So nobody has rung up about that! But I have been offered a great many ‘you won’t believe how these two disparate communities come together and find ‘common ground’ films. There are a huge number of those.

Crocodile Dundee In The Midlands? You can have that if you want.

Thank you. I’ll tell Harvey Weinstein!

I chatted to Faye Marsay a week or two ago, and we talked about the reaction to Pride. She said she thinks and hopes it’ll be a slow burn. That in spite of how much noise a lot of people made about Pride, there was a sense that the film still didn’t quite get what it deserved. That this was a film that should have done two or three times the box office returns.

Appreciating that it’s not a straight box office game, and that’s not why you got into this, Pride ended up getting bunched with films such as The Full Monty and Billy Elliott. So what do you take when you get the box office numbers in, and they’re not quite what people were saying they might be? Do you subscribe to the Marsay slow burn theory?

I’m told the DVD advance is very positive and I think it’s very likely that it’ll find its place. I try not to… it’s the one thing I can’t control. I have enough problems with trying to control things! I try and be as philosophical about it as I can, and it’s an interesting question, just what happened there. It had more five star reviews than any movie Pathe had every made. It had an incredible response. But people didn’t turn out in those numbers. For what it was, it did incredibly well, but I don’t quite know why it all happened.

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Your BAFTA speech said that it was the most commercially successful film about gay and lesbian activists in a mining dispute that ends in defeat of all time!

Yes! [laughs] Exactly, that is true!

Where next for you, then? What are the projects you’re juggling? I think you had more theatre projects, and another possible film for Pathe. Are any of those bubbling to the top yet?

The movie for Pathe I’m doing, and it’s underway. I’m writing it now. That’s another true story. Most of the protagonists are no longer with us, however. So it’s a slightly different situation. With LGSM I could ring up and ask ‘were you in love with Mark’ and things like that. I can’t do that here, which is both a shame, and in some ways a relief. It’s complicated talking to people about their own lives. Nobody can argue with me here! And I’m doing something for theatre as well!

Stephen Beresford, thank you very much!

Pride is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray

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