'Pride' highlights a forgotten story

Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times

If you think unions are the scourge of the working world, you will not be happy at "Pride," which begins with the unmistakable sound of Pete Seeger singing "Solidarity Forever" and goes on from there.

But "Pride" has other things on its mind besides trade unions. It has uncovered and dramatized a largely forgotten aspect of the bitter 1984-85 miners' strike in Britain — that a small group of London gay and lesbian activists made common cause with miners in Wales, a bit of cross-community social action that was wildly unexpected and had lasting repercussions.

As written by Stephen Beresford and directed by the Tony-winning Matthew Warchus, "Pride" is carefully balanced between substance and sentiment.

With key roles for such popular British actors as Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Paddy Considine, "Pride" is an unapologetic crowd-pleaser of a movie, but it has some potent points to make, and the reality of what happened has a power of its own.

"Pride" opens in the London apartment of Mark Ashton (American actor Ben Schnetzer), a gay activist who is transfixed at a television news broadcast about the miners and a strike that is at that point four months old.

Feeling instinctively that anyone whom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the police and the tabloid press have lined up against, as they have against gays, must be worth supporting, Mark cajoles his friends at that day's gay pride march to pass around plastic buckets for contributions for the miners.

Also at the march, though very much in the closet at home with his parents, is young Joe, a 20-year-old student at a culinary college. Of all the character arcs in "Pride," Joe (though he's nicely acted by George MacKay) has the most predictable one.

Still on fire about the miners after the march, Mark forms G.L.S.M. (Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners). Though some friends with bad memories of being mistreated by homophobic miners opt out, a core group comes together.

These include Steph (Faye Marsay), initially the only lesbian in the group, flamboyant actor Jonathan (West) and Joe, whom everyone calls Bromley after the suburb where he lives, who signs on as the official photographer.

After experiencing difficulty getting the miners' union to return his calls, Mark decides to contact a specific town directly.

Picked almost at random is the Welsh hamlet of Onllwyn, which leads to a London meeting with town representative Dai (Considine), who though initially nonplused at finding himself dealing with gays and lesbians, ends up making a rousing speech at a gay bar about finding out that "you have a friend you never knew existed, well, that's the best feeling in the world."

The bulk of "Pride" takes place in Onllwyn (the film was shot in the actual village), where interactions are not simple and the gratitude many of the townspeople feel is balanced by hostility, fear of AIDS and just awkwardness at having to deal with strangers from the big city.

Among the most supportive villagers are Hefina, the head of the welfare committee, strongly played by Staunton, and local historian Cliff, a quieter than usual role for the versatile Nighy.

Making the biggest impression on the townspeople is the unstoppable Jonathan, whose out-there dance moves to Shirley & Company's disco standard "Shame, Shame, Shame" improbably wins folks over.

While warm good humor is the largest part of the way "Pride" tells its story, emotional moments are not lacking, and one of those also involves music. At a key point in a meeting, a local woman (Bronwen Lewis, a contestant on "The Voice") begins to sing Mimi Farina's union anthem "Bread & Roses," and the moment becomes electric.

Similarly moving is "Pride's" conclusion, as well as the final crawl that fills you in on what happened to the individuals and the movements involved. As improbable as it seems, change can happen, and its effects can be lasting.



Rated R for language, brief sexual content

Running time: 117 minutes