Review: Pride – A rousing film of solidarity between Welsh miners and gay activists

IT’S A STORY no one seems to have heard of – there was a lesbian and gay movement that worked to support striking miners in the mid-1980s? For many, it’s become a piece of forgotten history, but with Pride – aside from it being a genuinely moving, funny and simply enjoyable piece of cinema – we can reacquaint ourselves with these events and come to realise the part they played in shaping the Britain we now live in.

Politics aside, it’s the characters and their coming together that really shapes this film. After a brief introduction to Mark Ashton, the real life whirlwind of activism who drives much of the plot, we meet Joe, a fictional character who provides our portal into this world. Joe – affectionately nicknamed Bromley – is new to this realm himself, discovering his sexuality and what it means. Apprehensively attending his first Gay Pride march in 1984, he finds himself taken under the collective wings of a small group who, almost reluctantly, follows Ashton in his creation of LGSM – Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.

From here, the film follows the group in their efforts to fundraise for this cause and their initial struggle to find a mining town willing to accept their hard won donation.  Ashton was inspired to start LGSM because he saw the plight of the miners as being one similar to his own as a gay man – downtrodden and demonised by the politics and police of the 1980s – but it is for exactly these reasons that the donations are not accepted. The lesbians and gays are not viewed favourably… Until they find acceptance from a small Welsh mining village in the Dulais Valley.

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The fantastic ensemble cast, with deft emotional beats and some precision comic timing, sells this clashing of two cultures in a wonderful way. As may be expected, not everyone in the mining community takes to the appearance of LGSM, but this Welsh village is populated by such talent as Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, all of whom are representing the real people that led the charge. Some great humorous moments peel back the layers of the story as individuals come forwards with their stories, and their hopes for what their working together can do.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the film that was followed by a Q&A session with the writer, Stephen Beresford, who discussed how his film isn’t about any politics or agenda, but is about how people find their way through the situations these things make of our society. At heart, it’s about solidarity, and if you don’t understand that through the heavily referenced symbolism of the handshake throughout the film, then I’m afraid its message may be lost on you.

Aside from being a well-made film, with solid performances – the odd overly emphasised Welsh accent aside – there’s a lot here in the smaller details that will have particular resonance for a Welsh audience. This could be the feeling of community or a nice little nudge at the friendly animosity between North and South Walians (it’s like the whole English North/South divide, only Welsh).

Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine in Pride

One criticism I would perhaps levy is that going into the final acts, the film starts to take on too many issues. From the beginning it has set out a path to explore the treatment of gays, lesbians and miners, and the trade union movement yet we also find ourselves faced with a coming out story, the plight of HIV and HIV AID sufferers, with a light smattering of women’s rights.

I would argue that, yes, the foundations of these stories were laid throughout the film, some more subtle than others, and that they are issues that these characters would have confronted, but it reaches a point where perhaps too much is happening at once. I didn’t mind too much as I was drawn in by these people’s stories, but others may find that it detracts from the story the film sets out to tell. It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise outstanding film.

Dai Donovan, one of the protagonists of the film, played by Paddy Considine, was also at the screening. His honest commentary on what had happened shed some light – some things have been changed in the creative process, but the attitudes of the people and the fight they fought were all real. And, once you’ve seen this film, you can see that this is truly something. I left the cinema feeling buoyed by the triumphant atmosphere that permeates throughout, the lively disco and 80s soundtrack still ringing in my ears.

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