Strange bedfellows

These alliances look anything but “unsavory.”

These alliances look anything but “unsavory.”

Rated 4.0

You can go see Pride now, or you can wait for the inevitable Broadway musical. But I don’t think you want to wait. Director Matthew Warchus’ movie is a rousing, thoroughly enjoyable piece of power-to-the-people populism, but without the sour righteousness that so often makes lefty agitprop go down like medicine. It’s like Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty mixed with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

And for once, the opening “inspired by true events” message isn’t a cheat. Pride was inspired by an unlikely alliance between London’s gay and lesbian community and striking British coal miners in 1984. Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), 23, spearheaded the effort. In the movie, Mark puts it to his colleagues this way in an informal debriefing after London’s annual gay pride parade in 1984: If it seems like there were fewer cops harassing us this year than in the past, it’s because the cops were all over in Wales harassing the striking coal miners.

Mark’s activism leads to the formation of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), an ad hoc effort collecting change on the street to send to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). When the union ignores the offer for fear of public-opinion blowback, the group begins contacting workers at individual mines. In reality, LGSM partnered with several communities; the movie concentrates on the village of Onllwyn in south Wales.

Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) arrives in London to accept LGSM’s money, and his speech to the patrons of a London gay bar provides the first of Pride’s many stirring moments. A provincial villager in the midst of a bitter strike, and with no prior experience, or even awareness, of homosexuality, he tells them, “When support comes from friends you never even knew existed, well, it’s a great thing.”

When Mark and his motley crew roll into Onllwyn in their brightly colored van, the local reception is a mixture of warmth—from the likes of old duffer Cliff (Bill Nighy) and the matronly Hefina (Imelda Staunton)—and negativity from some of the sneering miners. The negativity begins to thaw when one of the visiting gays, actor Jonathan Blake (Dominic West), livens up a night of beer and skittles at the village union hall with a flamboyant dance across the tabletops to Sylvia Robinson’s “Shame, Shame, Shame,” catching the attention of gay-averse local yobbos when they see how the village women respond to his sexy moves. This joyous spasm of Saturday night fever is one of the scenes in Pride which prove that a Broadway musical is only a matter of time.

Another such scene occurs during “Pits and Perverts,” an actual London benefit concert in December 1984—a benefit that defiantly took its name from a nasty headline in Rupert Murdoch’s Sun that exposed the “unsavory” alliance between the gays and the miners. (“If somebody calls you an ugly name,” Mark urges, “take it! Own it!”)

Warchus and actor-turned-writer Stephen Beresford establish an audience surrogate in the fictitious character of Joe (George MacKay), a tightly closeted youth still living with his parents in Bromley who becomes the official photographer of the LGSM movement. We first see Joe furtively attending that gay pride parade in 1984, nervously looking over his shoulder as he’s dragooned into carrying a banner. By movie’s end, at the same parade a year later, Joe is no longer furtive and no longer closeted. His progress from one year to the next parallels the progress of those Welsh miners in accepting first the money, then the assistance, and finally the friendship of these strange creatures who seem almost to have dropped into their midst from some campy alien planet.

In real life, this story of solidarity ended better for the gays than for the miners. The strike was pretty much a total defeat, crippling the NUM beyond repair, while at the Labor Party meeting in 1985, the union’s support led to the adoption of a resolution calling for equal rights for the LGBT community.

But that irony isn’t allowed to poop the Pride party. The theme is solidarity against adversity, and the movie is unironically uplifting.