Director: Matthew Warchus
Major Players: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine
Out Of Five: 3.5
It’s been hard to miss the build-up to Matthew Warchus’ Pride. TV commercials and cast interviews a-plenty and I confess to getting involved myself: my interview with cast member Andrew Scott on Thursday on my Turquoise Radio movie show, Talking Pictures, at 10 pm (www.turquoiseradio.com). But after that shameless plug, there’s the inevitable question. Does it live up to the hype?
As a rule, I resist the temptation to like a film just because it’s been extensively promoted and positively reviewed. I’ve always done it, long before I became a film critic. If anything, heavyweight promotion can turn me off, just on principle. Just call me bloody minded. But Pride has a lot of the right ingredients – a top drawer British cast, a good story and an evocative soundtrack. So does Warchus pull it off?
We’re in 1984, the middle of the miners’ strike and Joe (George McKay) joins in at London Pride for the first time. He makes friends with a group of gay rights campaigners, led by the flamboyant and outspoken Mark (Ben Schnetzer), who decide to raise money for the striking miners. After a number of rejections, they give it to a struggling mining community in South Wales and a relationship starts to be forged between the two groups. By the time 1985 London Pride comes along, everybody involved has come a long way, taking all manner of routes.
The film’s re-creation of the 80s is spot-on. The rampant homophobia – from the police, the villagers and in the big city – seems archaic, yet the film is only set 30 years ago. In those days, a film portraying gay life would’ve been unheard of, although it’s worth bearing in mind that Derek Jarman’s then-controversial Caravaggio was only two years away. And for today’s audience, some of those attitudes are laughable. Some, though, are seriously not. There are moments when the anti-gay feeling in the Welsh village threatens to spill over into violence, but it never does. Ironically, that happens in the apparently more liberated London, where the book shop run by two members of the group has its windows smashed and Gethin (Andrew Scott) becomes the victim of a savage gay bashing.
It isn’t the only serious issue in the film. AIDS rears its head as well, at a time when ignorance prevailed and it was regarded as a death sentence. Mark runs into an old flame (a brilliantly haunting 30 second appearance from Russell Tovey) who is out on a bender and the reason is pretty obvious. Later in the film, we also discover that Jonathan (Dominic West), who’s Gethin’s partner, has been living with HIV for some time. In real life, Jonathan was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed and has just celebrated his 65th birthday. But the storyline is introduced so late in the day that it feels like a bolt-on, rather than something that genuinely needed to be there.
But that all makes Pride sound like a deeply serious and intense film. And, yes, it does reflect the big issues of the day, but it also manages to be a feel-good movie, something closer in tone to the likes of Billy Elliott (also set during the miners’ strike) and The Full Monty, but from a different perspective. There’s plenty of humour, and it’s not just from the old-fashioned attitudes but from the characters themselves. The women in the Welsh village are the real driving force and get some of the best moments as well, especially when they go for a wild night out in London. And then there’s Imelda Staunton’s glorious “lezz off” moment! In some ways, it’s almost a romantic comedy, but between the two communities, both minorities, who come together to change their views of each other. Thankfully, though, nobody from the mining village falls in love with one of the visitors – or vice versa.
It’s a loveable, enjoyable film that restores your faith in human nature – and, yes, you’ll need a tissue or two. Standing ovations are something of a rarity at a press screening, but that’s exactly what happened when I saw it. There were cheers. And stomping. It’s so rousing at the end, that if you’re not moved by it, there’ll be a very good chance that you’re telling porkies!
With such a great ensemble cast, the performances are a given and it would be unfair to single out too many of them. I’ve already mentioned Russell Tovey’s searing cameo. Bill Nighy has none of the cool we usually associate with him as the chairman of the social club. Nervous in public and not overly keen on the gay group from London, we watch him melt before our eyes, while Dominic West is wonderfully showy as Jonathan. And when Andrew Scott’s Gethin returns to Wales to visit his mother after 15 years of silence, you want to pick him up and hug him.
Matthew Warchus has made a film with real passion for its subject and it’s infectious. It’s guilty of romanticising things just a touch too much, but you can happily forgive that while you’re being swept along by its warmth. And, if you want to find out what happened to the characters in real life, make sure you stick around right to the end.
Pride is released nationwide on Friday, 12 September.