Like all the best queer films, Pride’s greatest strength is that it focuses on perceptions of normality as opposed to the concept of queer itself. Cast-wise, it’s a typical British ensemble, featuring some of the UK’s most visible stars (Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Joe Gilgun, Paddy Considine, Dominic West et al), the only difference being that most of them are playing gay or lesbian characters, something very few of them are noted for previously playing. That the movie feels entirely comfortable, natural, and lived-in, far away from the abrasive aesthetic New Queer Cinema erupted with in the early 90s, is an optimistic and heartwarming reflection on the increasingly healthy state of the LGBT community, and social attitudes towards it in general.
Another key quality is that it portrays homophobia as a practically obsolete attitude entirely, riding full force into its end credits with a huge sense of accomplishment intact. Set in Thatcher’s Britain, Pride covers the events occurring between the miners’ strike of 1984-5 and the subsequent Gay Pride March in London, beginning with the attempts made by the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) in supporting the striking communities. True to LGSM’s aims, Pride fully empathises with the miners as opposed to turning the movie into a pride parade of its own which, as the majority of it is set in a tiny Welsh village in the 1980s, was what I was fully expecting.
What helps is that the first representative from the village, Dai (Considine), openly admits that he’s never met a gay person before. That Dai says this in the company of LGSM, away from the peer pressures of his conservative villagers, is a lucky strike for the campaigners, whose support until then has been denied outright by typically prejudiced organisations and communities. A gentle and kindly being, Dai happily allows himself to be persuaded into making a speech at a gay club, thanking all the folks who’ve donated to his cause. Following this, he eagerly tries to integrate LGSM into his village, which initially proves obviously problematic but acquiesces steadily over the course of several set pieces.
The unity of the strikers and the queers occasionally feels like it’s been forged in a contrived way, however; for example, Dominic West’s thespian character erupts into song and dance at one point, stubbornly embracing all the stereotypes the village folk have stated as holding against homosexuals, yet somehow this manages to win most of them over. Not that this isn’t a brilliant sequence – it’s incredibly well-edited, hugely exhilarating and beautifully acted – but it does seem unlikely that such a shift in attitudes would occur so quickly, and at such a brazenly effeminate act in room full of people desperately clinging to their established gender roles. Potential dance scene of the year for sure, except that it’s one backed by slightly delusional reasoning.
Thankfully, that eventually becomes beside the point. Once the first half of the movie is over and the barrier between the two parties are felled, Pride centres in on the miners’ struggle, especially noting the double-meaning of the title, simultaneously referring to the march that signifies progress and the sin that stunts it. The strikers’ return to work was counted as a victory by the Tories, and was an inevitability quietly feared at the time, revealing the movement as a case of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object; something had to give, and the side with the most power – clearly Thatcher and her cohorts – obviously weren’t going to be the ones to budge first. This is heartbreakingly encapsulated in the movie by a tough sequence where loaves of bread go up, not for ration, but auction.
Nevertheless, Pride isn’t concerned with sticking it to the man and not having him log it back at you. This isn’t Downfall, and the focus isn’t on the big events that shook history but rather the little ones that made all the difference. The amalgamation of these two factions, one oppressed by society and the other by authority, is represented here by a great cast who all share a fervent chemistry, backed by a witty and humane script and underscored by a hungry confidence rarely emitted so strongly in British comedy. Despite lacking the nuance of films such as Weekend, Pride aligns itself among the decade’s worthiest queer movies, hopefully one day belonging to a pantheon of art-pieces that best capture the massive improvements in LGBT acceptance we’re witnessing in the 2010s. As well as this, it’s a practically irresistible feel-good experience, one with a cast and crew aiming for powerful emotional responses and seizing them as if their lives depended on it.