Every couple of years, a small British film comes along that transcends its parochial setting to touch a universal nerve, with award nominations and US box-office upsets ensuing. Think Brassed Off, or Billy Elliot. Now think Matthew Warchus’s Pride, released on Friday, which splices the DNA of both those sleeper hits.
Pride is based, as is so much Oscar-bait, on a true story: having realised, in 1984, that there is one minority group being persecuted even more viciously by the police than themselves, a Soho-based Gay & Lesbian group becomes one of the best fund-raisers for the miners’ strike – only to find the Welsh coal-men, however desperate they are, reluctant to accept charity from a bunch of “poofs and perverts”.
That the insular mining community is, for the most part, won over by the exotic visitors is no spoiler; without that there’s no movie. [In real life, they didn’t even need winning over, as this piece in GayStarNews shows.] But there’s a real joy in how it unfolds: particularly Dominic West’s showstopping disco routine to the song Shame, Shame, Shame in the miners’ social club. The ensemble cast is wonderful. Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy, playing against type as a shy and stuttering poetry-lover, seem most likely to receive Best Actor noms, and the only false note is struck by the one irreconcilably homophobic villainess of the piece, who seems too much of a battle-axe to be true.
And the script… well, I wish I’d written it. The opening lines: “I’ve spoken to the Council about your deviant parties,” warns an older resident of the main gay character’s housing estate. “No need to do that,” he teases, “just knock on the door and we’ll let you in.” Further enraged, the man warns, “They’re sending policemen!” “Ooh, I do hope so!” The one-liners fizz throughout, but first-time writer Stephen Beresford is also deft at painting it black, as the spectre of AIDS beings to spread its chill.
As to the politics of the strike, that’s wisely ignored in favour of its human cost. But what starts as a good-hearted paean of tolerance and understanding for “poofs and perverts” develops into something more interesting and subversive still: a reassertion of the dignity and solidarity of the Labour movement, at a time when it is more sorely needed than ever. The ending had me in tears.