Pride is the latest feel-good comedic drama from England, the sort where kooky characters come together for the sake of an institution or town bigger than themselves. The apotheosis of the subgenre is The Full Monty, which was nominated for Best Picture and inspired a Broadway musical, as well as a slew of imitators. Waking Ned Divine, Kinky Boots, and Billy Elliott are also of this mold – the latter two had successful Broadway runs – which is another way of saying that there’s nothing too original in Pride. Then again, there’s no reason to update a formula that attracts a certain type of audience, especially when there’s a populist political message, too.
The key difference between Pride and the other films in the preceding paragraph is its setting. It’s 1984 in London, and Thatcherism is massively unpopular. A protracted mining strike is the most important political issue of the day, and a young gay firebrand named Mark (Ben Schnetzer) makes a shrewd observation: like the miners, the gays also get the shit kicked out of them by the police. Mark decides to express solidarity with them, and starts the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). With the help of a gay Welshman Gethin (Andrew Scott), Mark finds a mining town where he can send the money he raises. The mining union’s representatives (Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy) are glad for the help, yet the blue collar town is initially skeptical – even a little afraid – of the gays who barge in.
The different forms of tolerance pique the interest of director Matthew Warchus and screenwriter Stephen Beresford, who find non-threatening ways to depict the inevitable culture clash. There is a crucial scene where a boorish young miner shakes hands with Mark – the image of hands clasping is important to the film – yet he is reluctant to socialize with his (gay) brother-in-arms. There’s the usual conservative biddy who poo-poos all the cavorting, as well as the plucky blue collar woman who embraces the gays without much prejudice or fuss. The comedic payoff of the culture clash is utterly predictable (e.g. the gays teach the straights how to dance), although that’s hardly a complaint since Warchus and his actors nail the comedic timing. For our sake, everyone pretends we have not seen these jokes before.
Aside from the uneasy transition to solidarity, Pride swells with several minor sub-plots. Joe (George MacKay), a fictionalized young gay who serves as the audience conduit, shifts away from the politicized life after his parents accidentally learn about his sexuality. Dominic West plays against type as Jonathon, an extroverted queen who bulldozes over intolerance through amazing outfits and the sheer force of his will. There is a throwaway line about his HIV – he was one of the first men who was diagnosed with it in Britain – and Pride mostly shifts away from the early confusion/terror surrounding AIDS. It’s unclear whether Warchus wants to focus on the miners or whether he thinks the material is too icky for a broad audience, but Pride would benefit from a little more interest in the subject. There are two bizarre scenes where Mark ruefully acknowledges he might be HIV-positive, but they’re treated like an afterthought. Pride can either focus on the miners/gays entirely or go into more depth about HIV. It attempts something in between, to the detriment of the movie and the real people on who it is based.
There are at least a dozen important characters in Pride, which means Warchus must veer his attention from one sub-group to the next. Actors never really get an opportunity for depth, so they stand out through manipulative moments or a series of one-liners (there is a running gag about an old lady who asks lesbians one rude question after another). There is a sense of community in Pride, not just in the town but among groups who surprise each other with moments of generosity and empathy. This is a not biopic like Milk, where the director drills down into the particulars of his hero’s life. The film’s scope is a reflection of the values of its characters precisely because the miners and LGSM realize the movement is bigger than themselves.
Pride does not examine Thatcherism, except to note that it’s evil. All the characters agree, more or less, that she’s a heartless monster who’d rather hurt her constituents than help them. In other words, the Iron Lady is a catalyst for ordinary folks who look for help in places they would not expect. I was not immune to its charm – Pride is the sort of movie that earns big smiles – yet its inoffensive lightness mean that the movie does not earn much else. This is exactly the sort of movie you’d watch with your grandmother when you’re home for the holidays, and when it becomes the inevitable Broadway musical, it will be exactly the sort of show you see with her on her birthday.