This is a SPOILER FREE review.
Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus and written by Stephen Beresford, is a film based on the true story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gays and lesbians, who raised money to help support a small mining town in Wales, and the miners they helped, during the UK Miners strike in 1984.
The ensemble cast is excellent across the board. Such great actors as Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine and Dominic West star, but lesser known talents are also on display, in particular Irish actor Andrew Scott, British actress Jessica Gunning and American actor Ben Schnetzer.
Shnetzer plays Mark Ashton, a gay activist who conjures up the idea of raising money to support the striking miners. I was shocked to learn that Schnetzer was American. His Northern Irish accent is impeccable. Mark Ashton was obviously a very charismatic and determined man, and Schnetzer is able to give him an inner life and vibrancy that truly brings him to life and never rings hollow.
Jessica Gunning plays Sian James, a Welsh miner's wife and mother to his children. Gunning makes Sian's dynamism feel real and natural and not forced and staged. Watching her character gain confidence, balance and power was really interesting. Sian's character arc is pretty remarkable and Gunning's portrayal of it does the real woman's journey justice.
Andrew Scott plays Gethin, a gay man in self-exile in London from his Welsh boyhood home and family. He is really fantastic. He carries a great wound with him that is never spoken, but which is palpable. When a woman from the mining town speaks his native Welsh to him on the telephone, it takes his breath away, and ours with it. I had not heard of Andrew Scott before this film, but damn, he is really good, I look forward to seeing more of his work.
As for the bigger names, Bill Nighy is just fantastic. He plays Cliff, an elder statesman from the Welsh mining town. He is, as always, flawless. His character doesn't speak much, but Nighy fills him with such a distinct inner life that you cannot take your eyes of off him. There is a scene between Cliff and Imelda Staunton's Hefina, who is an elder stateswoman of the Welsh mining town, and the two of them barely speak, but it is so understated, so well done, so well crafted and so highly skilled that it should be mandatory viewing for actors young and old. It is simple yet precise. Perfection.
Speaking of Imelda Staunton, she is a master. Her Hefina Headon is a powerhouse of a woman, both tough and kind, smart and funny. There is nothing so enjoyable as watching master crafts people, like Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, ply their trade.
As for the film itself. It is being billed as in the vein of The Full Monty and Billy Elliot. This is an accurate description. Those films are funny, political and poignant. Pride lives up to that billing. As I watched I thought to myself that these types of films are only really done well by the Brits. They have a way of being understated in both their comedy and their poignancy that American films struggle with. For instance, their are numerous scenes which are highly emotionally packed in Pride, yet they are done with almost no dialogue. The director lets the scene play out and we get to feel along with the characters, as opposed to in most American films we are told, either through dialogue, or music, what to feel. The Brits are good at letting silence do the work for them, while we Americans feel the need to make sure everyone is hit over the head with the emotion and meaning of a scene or of the comedy.
Pride, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot are stories that all came out of the economic turmoil of the Thatcher years, when the labor union movement was under full scale attack by the 'free-marketeers' and the 'free-traders'. This has become fertile ground for British filmmakers, artists, musicians and writers over the years, and rightly so. What was really under attack during the Reagan-Thatcher years wasn't just the labor movement, or a certain economic system, what was really being attacked was a way of life, a culture, a tradition handed down from father to son. A tradition that bound together communities from one generation to the next. It is ironic that it was mostly conservatives who were at the forefront of decimating the labor movement in order to maximize profits, or in other words, to feed their greed. And yet, conservatives are supposed to cherish tradition, and community, and family, but their economic policies during the Reagan-Thatcher years obliterated the things they alleged to hold dear and that they claimed made our countries and communities great. The real heart breaking aspect of watching Pride is knowing that as noble as the miners and their cause is, and knowing how important it was that they win, they didn't. Organized labor is dead, and both the UK and the US as countries, and all of their people, are worse off because of it. There is no recovering from the cultural and economic damage done by Thatcher and Reagan. Seeing the struggle on film and knowing it ends badly is gut wrenching. It is also somewhat ironic that the gay rights movement has succeeded beyond it's wildest dreams since that time, while the labor movement is nothing but a ghost, although the gay community would still have to face the crucible of the AIDS epidemic as Reagan/Thatcher were dismantling labor. So while it took thirty more years for the gay community to make serious, lasting progress, those thirty years have only seen the denigration of the labor movement to the point of extinction. The truth is, more people probably know a gay person than know someone in a private sector union. Considering the heights that labor had soared to in our history, and the depths of the closet the gay community was forced into in their history, that is an absolutely remarkable thing to consider. Hopefully, in the next thirty years, labor will have made a Lazarus-esque rise as astounding and empowering as the gay community has in the last thirty. Sadly, I sincerely doubt that will happen, and all of us, whether gay or straight, management or labor, will be worse off because of it.