SPRIDE. Starring Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, Dominic West, Ben Schnetzer, George McKay, Andrew Scott, Jessica Gunning. Directed by Matthew Warchus. 120 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, coarse language, sexual references and brief nudity).
The title, Pride, might immediately suggest Gay Pride Marches. And the suggestion is not wrong. However, this is a much more complex film in its themes: support for the miners in the 1984 British strikes as well as themes of Gay Pride and, eventually, because of the times, raising the issue of AIDS.
This film may well marginalise different groups from the outset.
With a glimpse of a television interview with Arthur Scargill, the leader of the striking miners, those not in favour of Scargill, of the strike, of the miners and of the labour movement may not be fans of the film. On the other hand, there is also an initial television interview sequence with Margaret Thatcher speaking, the speech where she emphasised the strength of her leadership and assured everybody that she was not a softy. Those who remember the Thatcher era or who do not approve of her and her policies, may not be fans of the film either.
And then there is the gay and lesbian issue. A fellow-reviewer told me that when he went to see another film, there was a trailer for Pride, and a man near him growled loudly, ‘effing faggots’, and walked out of the cinema until the trailer was over. Anybody sharing that homophobic comment will not like this film at all.
While the strike was in 1984 (and we remember Billy Elliot was set in the same time and context), this was 30 years ago. The portrayal of the gay and lesbian group echoes that of 1984 rather than of the present. There is far more understanding these days, despite homophobic outbursts, and despite communities, especially those Bible-based, but not exclusively, who are still repelled by homosexuality. (As Pride is being released, some of these issues were raised by the Vatican Synod during October, with discussions and struggles to find outreach pastoral language that gives priority to compassion rather than to judgement.
This theme is very much to the fore in Pride. At the Gay Pride March in London, 1984, a small group of enthusiasts collect money to support the miners, feeling that because they understand oppression and hostility, media criticism, dislike and misunderstanding from the community, that they decide to collect money for support of the miners, calling themselves Lesbians and Gays in Support of the Miners. Further, they want to find a community to give the money to and decide on Wales. They stick a pin in a phone book page, ring the number and the old lady at the other end doesn’t quite understand what she heard but welcomes them.
It is often said that if we don’t understand an issue, we should meet and be with someone who represents that issue so that it has a human face, a human character, and, even if there is disapproval, there is the possibility for understanding and respect. As might be anticipated, this is to the fore in the film when the group go down to Wales and are initially received with hostility by the miners and the community. But, as the weeks go by, as the individuals share with the locals, especially when a rather flamboyant actor, portrayed with zest by Dominic West, shows them how to dance, modern-style, and they gradually win over most of the locals.
One particular member of the Miners’ Council disapproves completely of the miners taking supportive money from the group. Her character is very bitter. We realise that while she is entitled to have her views, and express them, we also realise that her hostility and righteousness come from deep anger and judgemental attitudes to life. We are shown that hostile attitudes like outbursts of homophobia can lead to malicious behaviour and cause mischief in a community. Perhaps this is one of the main messages of the film, that holding opinions is one thing, acting out with malice, or hatred, is quite another thing.
While there is a cheerful mood overall in the village which accepts not only the charity but also the different persons and unfamiliar types, there are some very serious undertones to many of the characters.
There is a Gallery of characters from the village, including a very serious Bill Nighy and bubbly Imelda Staunton. Paddy Considine is the most sympathetic character, the member of the local council who was commissioned to meet the group, speaks in a gay bar, and begins to understand men and women who are different by being and working with them. The other standout character in the Welsh village is Sian, a housewife who is not afraid to speak her convictions (and who, we are told in the credits, became a parliamentarian after be encouraged to do studies).
Ben Schnetzer is Mark Ashton, very serious about social concern who gets the group going, is behind it in begging for money, keeping up morale, putting on a music concert event to counter the adverse headlines caused by the malicious woman in the village phoning journalists. Others in the group include Adam Scott (Moriarty in the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series), Dominic West as his partner, and George MacKay as a 20-year-old, struggling with his sexual orientation, his very respectable home and parents, the welcome that he receives in Wales, the support from the group, and his eventually confronting reality with his parents.
The film ends with the Gay Pride Mark March 1985, the end of the year-long strike which included this story of collaboration between gay and lesbians and miners (with final credits information about the Labor Party’s incorporation of gay and lesbian rights into their platform because of the mutual support during the strike and the beginnings of mutual understanding).
20 years ago, an American Archbishop visited Australia and in his conference with the Catholic media explained that he took a year to write any pastoral letter in his diocese, consulting all those with connections to the particular theme so that while he was writing in the Catholic tradition of teaching, he was also writing with the gospel mentality and pastoral outreach. Any person doing something equivalent these days could well have a look at Pride, whether they agreed with everything or not.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Entertainment One Australia
Out October 30 2014.