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British Film Review: Pride
Directed By Matthew Warchus
It’s the 80s. There’s no such thing as society, the unions are being bashed, homophobia is fuelled by the “gay disease”, AIDS, and Loadsamoney is brandishing his wad. There was, of course, much more to the decade than that and the more human side of it is on show in Matthew Warchus’ 'Pride'.
The winner of this year’s Queer Palme at Cannes starts off at London Pride in 1984, with a decidedly nervous Joe (George McKay) joining in for the first time. He teams up with a group of gay activists, led by the outspoken Mark (Ben Schnetzer, unrecognisable from his most recent role in The Book Thief) and they decide they want to help the striking miners. Finding a community to accept the money they raise proves to be tricky, but eventually they forge a link with a village in South Wales. And, by the time the 1985 London Pride comes around, it’s been a year of laughter, learning and tears.
Which isn’t a bad description of the film as whole. 'Pride' has already been labelled another Billy Elliott or The Full Monty and the parallels are evident. Like 'Billy Elliott', it’s set during the miners’ strike and even has a – rather memorable! – dance sequence. And it shares 'The Full Monty’s' life-affirming belief in the resilience of the human spirit. But it goes its own way as well, using a true story as its basis and giving the audience something closer to a romantic comedy between two communities regarded as outsiders.
Its portrayal of the 80s hits the mark and the serious issues of the day are all there. Homophobia is the norm, as shown by the police, the Welsh villagers and London itself, and violence simmers underneath. But, ironically, it comes to the surface in the supposedly more liberated London, where the bookshop housing the gay activists has its windows smashed and one of them, Gethin (Andrew Scott) is severely beaten up. And there’s AIDS, regarded as a death sentence at the time. Mark runs into an old friend (a haunting 30 second cameo from Russell Tovey) who’s out on a bender and it’s not hard to guess why. Towards the end of the film it’s revealed that Gethin’s partner, Jonathan (Dominic West) has been living with the condition for a number of years. Indeed, the real Jonathan was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed as HIV positive and has just turned 65.
That’s not to say it’s a sombre film. The issues are interwoven with a massively warm hearted sense of humour, which comes both from what today’s audience sees as old-fashioned attitudes and the characters themselves. It’s a film where the women get some of the best lines because, as far as the mining village is concerned, they’re the more powerful characters. Their night out in London is a riot – and Imelda Staunton’s “lezz off” is easily one of the funniest moments in British cinema this year.
It’s a bold move to make a film with such a large, and often recognisable, ensemble cast but it pays off in spades. So much so that singling out too many performances feels not only unfair but against the spirit of the film. They all have their big moment, from Bill Nighy’s not wholly unexpected revelation towards the end to George McKay eventually coming out to his parents, and each is equally important in both moving the story forward and painting a picture of the times.
Warchus has made a film with a genuine passion for its subject, full of infectious warmth and laughter and delicately balanced with moments of gravitas. A tissue or two is compulsory for this one – there’s some genuinely moving moments – and the end is truly rousing. You may easily find yourself on your feet at the end. Cheering, that is, not leaving.
PRIDE is UK cinems from Friday, 12 September 2014.
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