Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard earned dollar.
A stroke of blind luck (and a little vacation) mercifully spared me a viewing of Annie (2014) last week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Annie is a charming film, but I had zero desire to sit through that one. Whew.
This week, iTunes sets the bar slightly higher. Inspired by true events, Pride tells the story of a Gay Rights group from London who surprised the entire UK with their support of a Welsh mining town during the country’s mining strike of 1984.
Anarchy For The UK
For those of you in need of a history lesson, 1984 was not a particularly good year to be Gay or a Miner in the UK. While the miners were on strike and desperately fighting to save their dying industry, the Gay community was dealing with rampant discrimination and an ever-growing AIDS crisis. Margaret Thatcher‘s Conservative Party-led Parliament wasn’t doing much to help either group. When activist (and unofficial leader of a UK Gay Rights group) Mark Ashton (earnestly portrayed by newcomer Ben Schnetzer) takes up the miners’ cause, he convinces the members of his group to join him with very simple logic, “If anybody knows what it feels like for them, it’s us.” Armed with a few plastic buckets and an acute desire to effect real change, the London (and only) chapter of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) was born.
Some people give money, some people spit. The LGSM crew hang tough and raise a sizable donation, but struggle to find recipients willing to accept charity from a homosexual group. A willing partner is finally found (due to a funny misunderstanding) in the Dalais Valley Miners of South Wales. Dalais’ Union representative Dai (Paddy Considine – has this guy ever given a bad performance?) travels to London to thank LGSM for their efforts. He is initially surprised, but accepting of the group and genuinely grateful for their support. He’s even moved to give a heartfelt speech about friendship (in a drag club no less) in one of Pride‘s finer moments.
A beautiful friendship is born as LGSM is invited to the mining town of Onllwyn (you try pronouncing it, cause I can’t) as a thank you from the Union. Initially weary of Mark and Company, the miners find a surprising amount of common ground with their new partners. In the end, LGSM prove their worth in ways even they didn’t expect. Minds and lives are changed and Pride is a word that comes to mean something bigger for every character.
A funny, quietly moving film with a stealthy, heart-on-its-sleeve attitude, Pride transcends a fairly predictable plot to become one of the most enjoyable British comedies in recent memory.
It’s Funny ‘Cause It’s True…Mostly
Yes, there are many predictable, even cliché moments throughout this film. A gay man will win over an anxious crowd with his fearless dance moves. He will later win more friends by teaching uptight straight men those same moves. Old ladies will party with their new homosexual friends and quiz them on sex, fashion, and vegetarianism. A fiercely intelligent housewife will find her voice. A gentle-souled man will finally admit he may be gay…etc, etc. All of these moments would be annoyingly on-target in Pride if they hadn’t, you know, actually happened.
In case you didn’t read it earlier, Pride is based on real people and real events. It’s a testament to Beresford and Warchus that this film isn’t mind-numbingly boring. We know what is going to happen, and we’ve seen all the moments before, but there is an oddly fresh feel to Pride that only exists because, well, they really did happen. And they happened with real people.
With any film based on real people and events, casting is always key. With a cast mixing relative newcomers as the LGSM team (save for Dominic West) with British stalwarts like Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, and Imelda Staunton as the Dalais Villagers, there’s no shortage of stellar acting across the board. Even more impressive is Beresford and Warchus’ ability to give each character just enough screen time to feel complete. Writing, Direction and performance blend together to give these characters and this world a singularly human feel…though one cannot help but notice there’s not a single Welshman in the cast.
Working with a cache of real characters, it ends up being a fictional one who brings us into this world. Joe (George MacKay…who clearly missed his calling as a Weasley), a semi-closeted newcomer to the LGBT scene in London acts as our entry point. As many viewers may still (sadly) have little familiarity with the LGBT world (and the mining world for that matter), it’s necessary to be brought in with fledgling eyes. While no actor stands alone as the central storyline in Pride, Joe is the character most viewers should identify with. Quiet and a little shy, Mackay gives a gently confident performance that should not be overlooked. Joe may not be the heart of the film, but he is our eyes and ears for a specific world at a specific time and that may be more important in Pride.
The Union Forever!
Directed by Matthew Warchus with a theatrical precision, Pride is an exercise in total immersion for a time and a place. The UK in the 80’s has never felt so alive. Deftly balancing music, fashion, and language, Warchus and crew ensure the authenticity of a time when real change still seemed possible. Often quite funny, the humor in Pride is always tempered as the AIDS crisis burns in the background, the complexity of unemployment issues abound, and the very real danger of violent intolerance always present. Pride never quite lets you settle into a comfort zone as Cinematographer Tat Ratcliffe‘s sharp compositions are skillfully blended with hand-held camerawork to give the film an intense, immediate feel that is vital to the politically charged story being told.
Yes, Pride is a political film…though it never really feels like one. Union politics play their part, as do big government. Gay rights are at the center of the story, but Pride is not a film about Gay Rights or even about Worker’s Rights. Simply put, it’s a film about Human rights. All we really want is an honest chance to get by in the world. Given that the rights of workers, gays, straights, blacks, whites, latino, et al. are still being controlled and abused by governing bodies across the globe, it seems we could all use a lesson in humanity.
Paddy Considine’s character has a running motif throughout Pride about what it means to have the support of someone you never knew was on your side. About what it means to pick someone up when they are down. About how strong people can be when they are working together. It all sounds a bit preachy, sure, but there’s more truth in those sentiments than you will find in most films being produced today. It’s worth hearing them in Pride.
The final scene of the film takes place at the 1985 Gay Rights Parade in London. I won’t spoil the moment (except to say that a killer Billy Bragg song plays over it), but something quite unexpected happens that backs up those sentiments and takes Pride to an emotional level most movies can only aspire…the emotion of truth.
You bet. Though a little too long at 2hrs, Pride is a lovely little film with a huge heart and well worth that $0.99. The sort of film that requires an open heart and a porous mind, Pride will be the very definition of enlightening to the right viewer. Earnest and quite funny, Pride will sit comfortably among other British films in the same vein, like Billy Elliott, The Full Monty, and especially Brassed Off (also a film about UK miners). It’s no coincidence that those films are all about being tolerant of others, about helping people when they need it, and about being proud of who you are. Those types of stories will always need to be told…at least until people start listening.