Though slightly overstuffed, this British comedy-drama has the stirring power of a protest anthem — and it’s funny, too
In the opening moments of “Pride,” activist Mark (Ben Schnetzer) makes the case at the 1984 London Gay Pride parade that the LGBT community and the coal miners on strike, seemingly disparate, actually share common enemies: Margaret Thatcher, the police and the tabloid press.
The movie never says so explicitly, but it also suggests that the two groups share a love for a good anthem, and the most powerful moments of “Pride” revolve around music, whether it’s a roomful of strike supporters singing “Bread and Roses,” Bronski Beat performing “Why?” at a benefit concert, or Billy Bragg’s stirring rendition of “There Is Power in a Union” over the film’s moving climax.
“Pride” overstuffs itself with too many characters and too many subplots, but the impact of these musical moments, along with a stellar ensemble of actors, make this an effective feel-good movie about fighting the power. Based on a true story and almost subversive in its lack of subversion, “Pride” makes a good case for inclusivity, cooperation and the uniting power of disco.
When Mark suggests that marchers in the pride parade raise money for the striking miners, it’s the launch of the activist group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), an organization whose members will include Joe (George MacKay), a suburban college student tentatively taking his first steps out of the closet; defiantly flamboyant actor Jonathan (Dominic West) and his partner Gethin (Andrew Scott), whose encounters with the miners will bring him home to Wales for the first time in decades; and Steph (Faye Marsay), who loudly and proudly reminds everyone that she’s the “L” in the group.
LGSM randomly selects a mining village in South Wales to support, leading to a visit by surprised striking miner Dai (Paddy Considine), who cements their friendship by giving a gracious thank-you speech at a London gay bar. Dai invites the group to the town, which causes some initial skittishness, but they are eventually welcomed by most of the strike committee, led by the no-nonsense Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and the soft-spoken Cliff (Bill Nighy).
The townspeople chafe at the invasion of the gays at first, but when the visitors share their knowledge of springing the unjustly arrested out of jail (to say nothing of the Latin Hustle), there is mostly harmony. But pinch-mouthed Maureen (Lisa Palfrey), forever reading right-wing newspapers and worried about “the gay agenda,” tries to push them away.
“Pride” features at least 10 other major characters, with subplots that include AIDS, gay-bashing, lesbian separatism, homophobic parents, reunions with formerly homophobic parents, and adult education. The excess of character and incident tends to bog down the film’s latter half just when things are moving along nicely. All these ideas would be terrific in a miniseries, but it’s too much for one film to juggle.
Director Matthew Warchus (most known for his stage work) and first-time screenwriter Stephen Beresford are pretty shameless about assembling as many audience-pleasing moments as possible, whether characters are telling off hypocrites, bigots and goons or whooping it up over a pint. But there’s good calculated manipulation, and there’s bad, and these filmmakers, blessed with a terrific cast, do it with gusto and plenty of laughs.
Veterans Staunton, Nighy and Considine are ably supported by a fine cast, particularly Schnetzer (the button-eyed co-star of “The Book Thief” serves up revolutionary fervor and a Morrissey pompadour with equal conviction) and Jessica Gunning as a miner’s wife who finds her voice fighting not just for the strike but also for LGSM’s right to visibly rally for the workers’ cause.
The struggle for living wages and gay equality is nowhere near over, and even with its flaws, the film feels like a rallying cry to battle onward. At its best moments, “Pride” makes the chest flutter and the neck hairs stand up with the revolutionary adrenaline that comes from a potent protest song.