Dean Craig is a British screenwriter based in Los Angeles. His feature film credits include Death at a Funeral (UK and US versions), A Few Best Men and Caffeine and he has a new film out next year, Moonwalkers.
There’s something very “British Film Industry” about Pride.
It’s an ’80s-set movie about a group of gays and lesbians supporting the 1984-85 U.K. miners’ strike, following in the footsteps of a particular genre of breakout hits from the U.K. over the past two decades. We’ve had The Full Monty, Billy Elliott, Bend It Like Beckham, Calendar Girls, Brassed Off, Kinky Boots, Made in Dagenham… and now, fitting neatly into the roll call, we have Pride.
These films have differences, but they also have major similarities. They tend to be tough-on-the-outside/soft-on-the-inside, feel-good films. They skirt around some edgy humor, but are fundamentally politically correct so their commercial appeal remains intact. And though they may have a bit of hard-hitting drama in them, it’s made more palatable by a generous dose of sentimentality, sometimes verging on mawkishness, and — in this case — the comforting quirks of the inevitable and ubiquitous Bill Nighy.
These films all share a similar social perspective. Their tendency is to portray the struggles of working-class underdogs battling social and economic pressures. It’s a tried-and-tested formula with a solid batting average when it comes to commercial and critical success. But while some of these films feature a social underdog, and others an economic underdog, here, in Pride, we have both! Social and economic… Gays and miners…. It’s like the British film industry’s answer to Hollywood bringing together Superman and Batman.
As a British filmmaker who’s had films financed out of the U.S., Australia and even Belgium, but who’s never felt quite the same kind of love from his homeland, it might be fair to say that I have an instinctive antipathy towards a film like this. I think that the British film industry in general has an aversion to taking too many creative or commercial risks, so I can imagine this concept coming along and everyone breathing a huge sigh of relief and feeling wonderfully safe for a moment. To borrow an analogy from Pride itself, I feel a bit like the gay son forced to leave his home and seek acceptance elsewhere. And ironically, I look at Pride as my sibling, the “good” son, who makes the “right” choices, fulfills Mummy’s and Daddy’s expectations and therefore wins validation and acceptance (and a 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes).
But putting my weird and quite possibly inappropriate feelings of abandonment aside, although Pride may not give us anything breathtakingly new it does succeed at tugging at our heartstrings as well as our social conscience. You’d have to be heartless indeed not to empathize with this group of gay people in the pre-sexual enlightenment Britain of the 1980s, a community struggling against vicious prejudice, fighting for rights, for recognition — to be viewed as normal, sentient human beings. Notwithstanding that these individuals have the depth of human feeling to put aside their own struggles in order to help a cause to which they’re not even remotely connected, except by the fact that they too are battling against injustice, adversity and an uncaring political establishment.
Add to this the fact that they’re undeterred by the knowledge that the miners who they’re hoping to help are actually themselves from a place and a culture with a tradition of prejudice towards the gay community, and you have the ingredients for a story that does something to revive one’s faith in humanity, especially when you consider that it is based on real people and events.
As a film, Pride isn’t without its imperfections. Certain problems arise from trying to service too many narrative threads, so some of the relationship payoffs aren’t quite as satisfying as they might be. (It’s possible that elements of the script were sacrificed in a bid to keep the running-time under two hours.)
But overall the film is well made, especially when you consider that producer David Livingstone and screenwriter Stephen Beresford seem to be first-timers. There’s no shortage of strong performances from a cast that combines youth and experience: stalwarts like Nighy and Imelda Staunton, and relative newcomers Ben Shnetzer and Faye Marsay, both great as the passionate activist leader and a hard-nosed lesbian, respectively. It also wins extra points for featuring the phenomenon that is Paddy Considine, here being uncharacteristically soft and cuddly, and not even remotely psychopathic.
Pride is a film that, despite the bitter defeat of the miners’ cause, celebrates a victory for human empathy and solidarity over ignorance and bigotry. It provides poignant insight into the hard-fought struggles of our gay population, the things that they’ve endured, and continue to endure, in parts of our society that persist in defining and judging people by their sexuality, isolating them from their communities and even from their own families. The film highlights their plight in a way that’s honest without being self-pitying. And so, in spite of my childish gripes about the British film industry, I ultimately think that Pride justifies its existence and its worth.