Pride, written by Steven Beresford, is one of the special films that we want so much to meet our expectations. We are surprised that it not only exceeds them, but does so for reasons that we do not expect. The film traverses the treacherous path between becoming preachy and shouty and actually delivering on the emotions.
At its core, Pride, helmed by veteran theatre director Matthew Warchus is about how a group of English gays and lesbians supported the striking miners under the Margaret Thatcher government in the 1980’s and how they were met with some resistance, as miners are not exactly the most friendly and inclusive group, delivers in a key way.
A couple of scenes in particular, one with Paddy Considine as a representative of the miners, coming to visit the gay and lesbian epicentre at a party and winning them over with some convincing rhetoric provides a spark. Another one comes at the middle of the movie and features the reverse occurring. Ben Schnetzer, one of the film’s young stand-outs, here plays Mark Ashton, by all effects the leader of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, coming to visit the group in Wales, and delivering his own impassioned speech. What comes next though was absolutely chilling, and could have perhaps gone on longer, an absolutely chilling rendition of Bread and Roses, started by a select few of the female supporters, but slowly rising to include many of the men in the room as well, both the miners, and the somewhat poorly-received gays. As Ashton looks on, both unhappy that he was unable to deliver a stirring message of his own, but also hearted by the show of unification that he is seeing, the audience members are absolutely flummoxed by the scene, and let’s just say, it may lead to a large number of audience members tearing up in support. Scenes like this are very close to veering into sappiness, but Warchus delivers a note-perfect rendition, and the scene ends at perhaps just the right time, and without a clear resolution being delivered. This is an absolutely knockdown scene, with multiple great performances.
Quite surprisingly, in a film featuring such great performances, much of the heavy lifting is done by the lesser-known members of the cast, such as George MacKay as Joe, the doe-eyed innocent living at home with his bigoted family. MacKay’s performance is such a contrast from the one-two punch of How I Live Now and Sunshine on Leith, where he was aggressively different than Joe in Pride.
Another stand-out is Jessica Gunning playing Sian, the strongly supportive wife of a miner, whose real-life character is given quite a surprising turn in the end credits of the film, (and please, we beg of you, stay until the very end of Pride, if you have not already jumped out of your seat by that point). However, Dominic West is slightly miscast as the reluctantly flamboyant Jonathan, and top-billed Bill Nighy plays a miner named Cliff, who affects a weird accent throughout, and is not the deliver the stand-out performance expected from this actor. A better performance comes from the quietly effective Andrew Scott as Gethen, the lover of Jonathan who manages to steal almost every scene that he is in by playing the role close to the bone, and moving beyond the idea of sexuality into multiple forms of repression and intolerance.
Regardless of some necessary maneuvering to gloss over certain details, Pride is a stand up and cheer triumph.