Looking Back At PRIDE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At PRIDE

Tony looks back with pride.
“It’s a symbol, like this. Two hands. That’s what the Labour movement means. Should mean. You support me, I support you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand.”
Dai Donovan, (played by Paddy Considine).

“That’s what I’d tell her. That’s what I’d say if I ever came face to face with Margaret Fucking Thatcher. The pit and the people are one and the same.”
Cliff Barry (played by Bill Nighy).

There are films, scattered throughout the history of the medium, that serve as a litmus test of your humanity and the living spirit of concern about fairness to your fellow travellers in the conga-line towards death.

1997’s Life Is Beautiful, by Roberto Benigni? Absolutely one of those movies. If you don’t end up sobbing by the end of the film, you should probably check your pulse.

Chaplin’s City Lights from 1931? If you have a heart, it’ll wrench it.

Pride, written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus, is one of those movies too.

And yet, even though the movie was released only eight years ago in 2014, it’s entirely possible that people in the 2020s might somehow fail to ‘get it,’ because the world it depicts is in some ways entirely different to the one in which we live.

1984 was a time of darkness and neon. A time of opposites, traditional culture and counterculture, and politically, a time of government-stoked fear and indomitable resistance to the power of ordinary people.

This will make no sense to anyone born since the 1980s, but trade unions – organised labour, working together to better standards and conditions for workers – were strong, strikes were powerful, and both employers and frequently the government itself had to take notice of what they said and voted for.

We know – stick with us.

In the 1970s in fact, strikes led by the miners’ union, the NUM, had brought down the government of Prime Minister Edward Heath when he failed to meet the nation’s energy requirements.

The subsequent Labour governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan were dogged with similar problems, but inviting union leaders to Downing Street regularly made the government unpopular, and heralded the rise of Margaret Thatcher, who gained the premiership at least partially on a promise to curb the power of the unions.

Spool forward five years. Thatcher is in power, and has already governed through a period of record inflation and climbing joblessness when the miners’ unions called another strike against what amounted to the decimation – and ultimately, the destruction - of their whole industry.

Plans for pit closures amounted to the wholesale removal of one of Britain’s biggest economic sectors. But more than that, the government’s plans would entirely destroy mining communities up and down the country.

The Miners’ Strike of 1984 was the closest thing to civil war Britain had seen in generations, if not centuries.

That’s where Pride starts, with real footage of clashes between miners and police on picket lines, and Thatcher patronising a TV interviewer, refusing to “change her style.”

And it also starts with the Gay Pride parade of 1984. Joe, a 20-year-old gay man from Bromley, who’s not yet out to his family, gets a present of a quality camera and goes along for his first Pride.

There he falls into a group of activists led by a charismatic and empowering young man named Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer). Very out and very political, the group are fighting their own anti-Thatcher battle for gay rights. Thatcher, incidentally, was the Prime Minister who denied that being gay was natural or equal in any way with being heterosexual, and who would eventually pass Section 28 into law, banning the “promotion” of homosexuality (for which read “any mention of the topic”) by local authorities.

So in 1984, the movement for gay equality in society was not only about representation, it was hardcore political too – and would only get moreso as the AIDS crisis unfolded and the government’s reaction was both cruel and blind.

But on that Pride parade in 1984, Mark has a revolutionary idea. Gay men and lesbians (the LGBTQIA+ community itself still had some growing away from the binary to do) were frequently the victims of Thatcher, the tabloids, and so-called ‘normal society.’ Exactly the same forces that were then vilifying the miners in their strike and the plight of their communities. Why not form a group, based in the gay community, to support the miners? The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.

So, led by Mark, and including Gethin Roberts (Andrew Scott), his partner Jonathan Blake (Dominic West), and its one lesbian member, Stephanie Chambers (Faye Marsay), the organisation that is Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners becomes a reality, and the money starts appearing in buckets across the community.

The thing is – did we mention those members of the so-called ‘normal society’? Yyyyeah, they include miners too, and when it comes to handing over the cash they’ve raised, the LGSM run up against walls in the ultra-macho mining union. Nobody at the National Union of Mineworkers will take their money, because they’re gay.

Gethin, as a Welshman exiled by his family’s bad reaction to his coming out, points the group to Wales as a big front in the fight for coal and mining communities. And with a single phone call – it’s done. The money raised by LGSM will be accepted by the miners’ strike committee at Dulais, in South Wales.

The film then becomes a serious-hearted buddy movie – can the two groups, “the gays” and “the miners” come together enough to make a real difference and defeat the government?

You’ve already seen some of the now-big names that play members of the LGSM. In the Welsh contingent, you have the likes of Paddy Considine as Dai Donovan and Bill Nighy as Cliff Barry, both leaders of the union in Dulais. You’ve got Imelda Staunton as Hefina Headon, a leading member of the strike committee, and you have an absolutely roof-raising performance from Jessica Gunning as a young Sian James, a mother wanting to feed the families of her community actions the starvation tactics of the government. (No, really, this is history – think Partygate with an extra punch in the throat).

Not a single one of those performances – nor those by other cast members, like Kyle Rees as Carl Evans, one of the miners released by Sian with the help of Jonathan’s advice, and Lisa Palfrey as Maureen Barry, who becomes increasingly an antagonist to sour the mood of togetherness throughout the film – are wasted. They all give the story its flavours, its colours, and its moments of joy and pain.

Through the meetings and the growing-together of the two groups, Pride manages to tell plenty of side-tales without losing its central focus, giving it bucketfuls of those poignant, powerful moments. It’s both furious and celebratory at once, and it makes your life better as you watch.

Gethin, who hasn’t been home in 16 years after his mother’s reaction to his coming out, is persuaded by Hefina to give it a go. Jonathan, flamboyant and fabulous, loosens the hips of some staunchly non-dancing Welsh valleys men, but also, crucially, gives Sian the vital information she needs to get two of the local miners out of jail when they’re erroneously arrested, and the fire to take her life and her mind further once the strike is over.

Gwen, an older member of the committee, and the one who first picked up the phone to LGSM (played with magnificent granny-vibes by Menna Trussler), builds a special rapport with the lesbians of the group, and even embraces their veganism – because not all boundaries that need breaking are sexual ones(!).

Dai takes Mark up on his offer to go on stage at a gay club to say thank you, and wins the crowd with the simple sincerity of his understanding of both friendship and solidarity.

Mark meets up with an ex-lover (played by Russell Tovey), who it seems has been diagnosed with HIV+

And we learn the astounding truth of Jonathan’s history and his unstoppable verve for life.

While, without over-spoiling you, disdain among the locals eventually stops LGSM from continuing their plans to support the miners, it doesn’t happen before at least half a dozen joyful, tearful, punch the air moments have come and gone, including a gigantic pop concert that brings the worlds together.

Joe (or Bromley, as he’s affectionately known throughout), as a fictional creation among depictions of many real human beings, is our viewpoint for all this action – the triumph, the hope, the struggle, the conflict and even occasionally the despair of the mining community as its government turns not only its economic sanctions but its police force against it.

He also has his own story – and while it may not hit home as hard as those of some of the real characters in the film, it has to be there, because Joe’s story acts as an avatar for the thousands, the millions of young gay people who suffered unnecessarily in an age where – as it made clear in the film – gayness was seen by far too many in the mainstream as an active perversion, a horrifying sub-life that no ‘decent’ person would want anything to do with.

But while the ending of the film is bound by historical accuracy to show the eventual crushing of the miners and their return to work – an action that cemented Thatcher’s victory over the people of her country and would go on to lead to the progressive legal neutering of union power, to the point where today, a strike is an isolated oddity – it also brings one more heart-swelling triumph.

It takes us forward to the Pride march of 1985. There, seeming to bow to the pressure of Thatcher’s victory, the parade organisers have decided there are to be no political banners up front.

We want badly to tell you why that doesn’t work out, but let’s just say that Dai Donovan proves true, both to the friends he never knew he had before LGSM made a phone call and changed his life, and to his definition of what the Labour movement should mean.

Even at the last minute of the film, there is the mixture of triumph and tragedy that has infused it all the way through, as, buoyed by the feeling of solidarity, we march out of the story that Pride has to tell. It catches up with some of the real progress the LGSM group left as its legacy – and some of the people who made it happen.

If you’re not at least a little soggy-eyed by the end of this movie, best check that pulse again, because you may be at least partially dead.

It’s too easy, nearly forty years on, to airbrush over a history of pain with trite economic nonsense. “Oh, well, the unions needed curbing” is one example. “Thatcher was a necessary force, and brought real economic freedom” is another. There are even people, in this age of eco-Armageddon, who tell you Thatcher was insightful because fossil fuels were destroying the planet and pits would have to have been closed down eventually.

None of this is relevant, and most of it is wrong. Thatcher’s actions against the miners were the equivalent of damning a river. They let the communities previously fed and watered by that river starve, and told generations of highly skilled workers that their skills were no longer worth a tinker’s cuss.

Thatcher’s attitudes to the LGBTQIA+ community cost thousands of lives in that community. It made the last days of those people intolerable, stigmatized, and needlessly isolated.

Pride itself is never needlessly polemical – it doesn’t need to be, because it takes us into communities where these things were taken as read, were facts of life, were appallingly obvious.

Re-watch Pride today as more and more foodbanks open and the cost of a deregulated energy industry begins to bite. It will make you weep for a lost solidarity, while reminding you cogently of why friends helping friends is as important now as it ever was.

Most of all though, it will make you feel exactly what it promises – Pride – in the actions of people of all generations, working as one to demand their rights and the chance of a decent future, despite a government that wanted to silence and destroy them.

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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