The 2014 British film Pride is inspired by the extraordinary true story of a group of London LGBT activists who during the 1984-5 miners’ strike – the longest in British history – raised funds to assist and support families in a Welsh mining village.
Written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus, this moving and funny culture-clash comedy made it a hit with audiences and critics winning the Queer Palm at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the BAFTA outstanding debut award.
In the UK, the 1980s were dark times both for coal miners and the LGBT community. While Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave the British mining industry a blow it would never recover from devastating entire communities in the process (she famously described the strikers as the “enemy within”); gay people were discriminated and stigmatised because of widespread homophobia and the little understood emergence of HIV.
In the middle of this social uproar and economic chaos, the two minority groups united against their common enemy and stood up together for equal rights. As the director said, the film tells the story of two opposite worlds colliding and then entwining in the name of solidarity and friendship.
The movie is set during one-year span starting on the 1984 London Gay Pride. Real-life young activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) is marching for equality with his group of friends when he suggests the idea to raise money for the miners striking against the pits’ closure. When asked why they should support homophobic miners who wouldn’t lift a finger to help them Mark replies:
“Who hates the miners? Thatcher. Who else? The police, the public and the tabloid press.”
Mark is the first to recognise the importance of mutual help against the same threat and after initial resistance from his fellow activists he eventually convinces them to set up the “Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group. The gay campaigners include shy, semi-closeted Joe (George MacKay) the witty queen Jonathan (Dominic West), activist Mike Jackson (Joseph Gilgun), Jeff (Freddie Fox) and Steph (Faye Marsay – the ‘L’ in LGSM!-).
The group mobilizes to collect donations and manages to raise some cash but when no local miners’ union would welcome their unsolicited charity, they find a sympathetic Welsh mining leader Dai (Paddy Considine) who accepts it. They set off in their eccentric minivan to make their donation in person. When they arrive to Onllwyn, a rural village of the Dulais valley, South Wales they are received with suspicion by the residents, the miners not wanting to be identified with the “poofs”, but eventually both groups realise that by standing together there is much they can achieve. To much surprise the strikers reveal to be far more open-minded and worldly than they get credit for and as the unlikely alliance is forged, the two groups learn not only to coexist but to respect and enjoy one another.
All the ingredients are in place for hilarious fish-out-of-water scenarios: the gays and lesbians urbanites trying to understand the Welsh mining community’s near religious obsession with bingo; old Welsh ladies visiting Soho leather bars and laughing at dildos; miners frowning into their pints down the village hall while Dominic West shows off his dancing talents and so on. The film humorously depicts the developing relationship between apparent opposites who somehow overcome the obstacles between them.
Pride includes at least two-dozen characters of greater or lesser importance all played by a remarkable ensemble cast, the duo of Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton as key figures in the Welsh mining community really stand out thanks to their amazing performances.
Of course with such a large number of characters and story elements, the film necessarily had to simplify historical facts leading some critics to argue it could have been more accurate about the factual events it chooses to depict. However, by avoiding to be over politically charged and preachy, the film delivers its uplifting message of generosity and compassion much more powerfully, mainly thanks to a beautifully written and perfectly balanced script, splitting humour in all the right places and never stooping into cheesy sentimentality. In a way this is a political film on a higher ground: it’s about people joining together to take control of their own destinies. As Warchus puts it: “At a time when people are so disillusioned with politics, it’s moving to realise that at heart, it’s about caring for people and designing the kind of society that you want.”
LGSM collects bucket after bucket of donations becoming one of the biggest fundraisers in the whole of the UK. The press tries to use the bond to hurt the miners’ cause but they fail miserably. When a newspaper headline ‘Pits and Perverts’ reports negatively on the alliance, Mark has the idea to use it as the title for a fundraising gig headlined by Bronski Beat. The concert turns out to be a very successful fundraiser and the strike leader Dai makes a powerful speech in a London gay nightclub that exemplifies the message of the film:
“When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger and stronger than you, to find out you have a friend you never knew existed, it is the best feeling in the world.”
What makes Pride a truly inspiring story it’s the lesson of decency, tolerance and courage that passes on to the audience, a real example that we prosper not despite our differences but because of them. As the characters in the film learn to see beyond labels and stereotypes they realise how in the end we are all human beings with the same worries, needs, ambitions and dreams.
‘Pride’ follows in the footsteps of other successful bittersweet working-class comedy such as ‘The Full Monty’, ‘Brassed Off’, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and ‘Billy Elliot’. In a way they all dealt with the dramatic consequences of the demise of the once powerful industrial regions of Britain but with a “feelgood“ flavour, all of them ending with a small but symbolic victory almost to reassure the audience that, contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum, there still is such a thing as society.
It is incredible that such an astonishing story has been almost completely ignored by history. When writer Stephen Beresford first heard about the forgotten group LGSM he was immediately fascinated by its narrative potential, however there were almost no references on the subject and no obvious Internet trail to help him in his research. By chance he found a short video documenting their successes on YouTube, called “All Out! Dancing in Dulais” and from the credits in the video, Stephen was able to track down the real people who were part of LGSM.
The defeat of the miners by the Thatcher Government in March 1985 with the subsequent closure of almost all of Britain’s pits, could have risked ending the film on a down note, instead a surprising upbeat finale featuring the most inspirational scenes in the movie, suggests that sometimes, through the power of unity and empathy, victory can be achieved in other ways.
The demonstration came when in 1985 a large contingent of miners led the Gay Pride Parade in London with band and banners hand in hand grasping one another in solidarity and union of purpose. The miners’ groups ended up becoming a powerful force in asserting gay and lesbian rights in Britain during the late 1980s. Thanks to block voting support from the National Union of Mineworkers, a resolution committing the party to the support of LGBT rights passed.
Gripping from start to finish, Pride is an intelligent heartfelt picture about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. A richly enjoyable film that will make you laugh and cry with great cinematography, a magnificent cast, and a combination of soundtrack and costume that will project you straight into the 80’s.
Thirty years after the events depicted, this real story continues to be relevant and inspiring today as a call to stand up together for equal rights reminding us that the innumerable battles for equality, whether they are based on ethnicity, gender, class or sexuality, are and must all be linked. True power lies in unity.
Several of the surviving group members participated in the film’s promotion. In 2015, following the film’s release, the surviving members of the organisation held a 30th anniversary reunion to raise funds for the Mark Ashton Fund, an HIV/AIDS charitable fund.