A more appropriate name for Matthew Warchus’ film would be Pride & Prejudice as it deals equally with both. As it is though someone had already snaffled that title.
Austen’s heroes had to deal with social snobbery and being frowned at during parties and while there is a strong element of that in Pride, the characters are also facing up to poverty, hatred, disgust and accusations of sexual deviance. More like Tess of the D’urbervilles then.
Pride tells the true story of a group of gay men and lesbians who supported and raised money for a Welsh Mining community during the 1984 Miner’s Strike. The comparison between these two groups is interesting. On the one hand we have a group of people who are branded as depraved and on the other, a group who are respected but still socially oppressed. Both are clearly suffering under the policies of Thatcher’s government with their human rights being ignored, which is what initially brings them together, but they are also equally subject to a kind of lazy pseudo sympathy from the nation at large. People do feel sorry for them but actually think that if they’d just back down and do what ‘normal’ people do, well then they’d be okay then wouldn’t they.
I was eleven in 1984 so perhaps not totally focused on the political issues of the age. To be fair I was still more wrapped up in the struggle of the Rebel Alliance at the time, even though they had successfully overthrown the evil Empire a year earlier. I do vividly remember what was going on in the real world though and I think, while there was a great deal of concern for the mine workers, those adults around me, in my comfortable middle class community didn’t actually do a terrible amount about it. They’d watch the TV news and tut, but for most of them that was about it. It certainly didn’t stop the country voting Conservative.
Similarly I think people say they have no issue with homosexuality but only because they’ve never really challenged themselves on it. They say it because they think they’re expected to and they convince themselves that’s what they think but even now, thirty years after the events of this film, there is an alarming amount of ignorant prejudice.
The frighteningly wide spread negative response to the legislation for gay marriage proved this last year. ‘Of course I think everyone has a right to be happy’ they said, ‘but marriage should be between a man and a woman. That doesn’t mean I’m homophobic.’ Hmm, (cue Spanish accent) you keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
Prejudice is an interesting thing but while it is totally unjustifiable, it doesn’t come from nowhere and it isn’t always easy to get past. Clearly I am not suggesting that the victims of prejudice are in any way responsible but when you have picked up attitudes from your parents, your community or your religion it takes courage and presence of mind to reject them. To some shame I was quite homophobic myself as a teenager. Clearly I never hated anyone and I wasn’t disgusted by homosexuality but ‘gay’ was an insult in my school and irrelevant of my own sexuality I wish I’d known to say ‘so what’ when I was called it. Those kids that were gay were not able to be open about it and they were considered different. I guess my stance on it was that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but it wasn’t normal. Yikes!
If course, the second I went to University, had gay friends and, most significantly, grew up a bit, my stupid and superior attitudes on the matter instantly dropped away. I fear though that the situation in schools and offices in some areas today may not be very different from what I was a part of twenty five years ago. For all of these reasons the story told by Pride is an important one and I hope it gets the widest audience possible. There will be plenty who do see it (it is currently number three in the UK box office top ten) but there will also be those who might not but should.
In fact it is the real events surrounding these people and the sad attitudes they come up against that carry the film. If you judge it purely as a movie then it is all a little straight forward and, in places, more than a little clichéd (the beleaguered miners and their families actually burst into communal song at one point). If it weren’t all true then the value of the movie would be greatly undermined. I do think people should see it but if you waited until it came out for home viewing that wouldn’t be a travesty.
That said, it has a good cast putting in some great performances. Imelda Staunton is adorable as one of the miner’s wives who embraces the flamboyance of her new friends and she is supported nicely by a group of less known but equally likeable actors. Standing out among these is Jessica Gunning as Sian, a strong supporter of those around her, old acquaintances and new.
The role of bad guy goes to Monica Dolan who is one if those actors familiar from a range of other things including Alan Partridge, Kick Ass 2, Sightseers, Never Let Me Go, Call the Midwife and Midsummer Murders. In different hands her Marion could have been a very one dimensional character and although there is no great redemptive moment she is more than just the town witch. She does show some of that conflict that being challenged on your ingrained prejudice brings.
Paddy Considine and Dominic West are also excellent in (relatively) toned down roles and Andrew ‘Moriarty’ Scott is typically brilliant. Yes, we have missed you Andrew and we look forward to seeing much more of you on our screens in the future.
The true star of the piece though is Bill Nighy in the least Bill-Nighy thing I have ever seen him do. That trademark slow laugh and snort does creep in at one point but Nighy gives a restrained and moving performance. There is a beautifully under played scene with him and Staunton making sandwiches which is one of my favourite cinema moments from the year so far.
Director Matthew Warcus does not do anything showy then but perhaps he knows it was enough rely on his story and his cast. I’m inclined to think there are a few more stops he could have pulled out if he’d wanted to, as this is the guy who directed the truly wonderful Matilda stage musical but if he did decide that the narrative and the actors could stand up by themselves then he was right. Pride is a good movie, see it – at some stage.
The Ripley Factor:
There are some stereotypical female characters here but they are largely among the wives and mothers, not the lesbians. Nonetheless, they all remain believable as real people and do much to be proud of.
They are here to inspire the men but that is not their only purpose and besides, a lot of these men need the push.
Is this one for the kids?
Not really as the film is a 15 certificate and there is a fair amount of swearing and the odd sex toy.
While I generally don’t approve of toning down films for a younger audience I wonder if aiming for a 12A certificate would have been better. That way the message could have been shared with a younger audience at a time when they are beginning to form opinions on the topics raised.