leanor Foa Dienstag

Pride – Two Unlikely Groups Unite for a Cause

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Pride, a British drama-comedy, is the feel-good movie of the Fall. It opens in New York September 26. If you liked, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot,  you will love Pride, which manages to be both serious and hilarious – not to mention gorgeous to look at – and stars a trio of charming, quirky character actors – Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West – who are the glory of English film, and by themselves worth the price of admission.

The plot, drawn from real life, is totally improbable, which may be one of the reasons it turns out to be so moving. Set in 1984 – not the good old days – in Margaret Thatcher’s England, when UK miners were on strike, the story focuses on a motley crew of LGBT activists in London who regularly go out on the street with buckets to raise money for the LGBT community.

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It’s an era when AIDS is on the rise, when gays are reviled and when their London headquarters, a bookstore, is regularly attacked by anti-gay thugs. Mark (well played by Ben Schnetzer), the young and deceptively innocent looking leader of the group, hearing about the desperate need of the striking miners, recognizes that they have a mutual enemy – Margaret Thatcher — and could be strengthened and gain recognition by banding together. He convinces his pals – who at first think he’s nuts — to start raising money for the miners – “LGBTs for the Miners” – and then tries to find some miners who will welcome their donations, since the National Union of Mine Workers, deeply conservative, refuse to be associated with a gay group.

Quite by chance, and good luck, they find a small mining town in Wales, load up their LGBT van with money and goods, and head off to meet the people in the community.

(The super-saturated, wide-angle shots of rural Wales are so beautiful that they make you want to go there immediately.) At first, only the local union leader and a handful of others welcome the LGBT crew but, gradually, and movingly, the two reviled groups come together in a rare instance of solidarity (with a few exceptions, of course).

Pride2And in an unexpectedly raucous scene, Dominic West (who Americans know from his work as a macho male in The Wire, and who in this film plays a rumpled, middle-aged HIV-positive gay actor), breaks out into a gyrating disco dance – to the music of “Shame, Shame, Shame” — that gets everyone, young and old, straight and gay, onto the dance floor. It’s one of the film’s highlights, reminiscent of The Full Monty, when England’s unemployed steel workers, started dancing to Hot Stuff.

There are character subplots within the main story. In particular, there is Joe (played by George Mackay), the 20-year-old virginal son of a rigidly middle class couple, who pretends to be going to cooking school but has secretly joined the LGBT gang, become their photographer and experienced his first romance. Trite as this sounds, when his parents discover the truth, as you know they will, the scene is convincingly portrayed, especially by Joe’s mother, Monica Dolan.

Pride3The story of solidarity between gay activists – who we know will triumph in decades to come – and miners – who we know will lose their battle, does not make this a story with a conventional happy ending. Yet, as the closing credits inform us, the alliance between the National Union of Mineworkers and the LGBT community was a triumph, one that eventually led to the overturning of antiquated anti-homosexual laws and lasting positive change. Which may be one of the many reasons this film lifts one’s spirits and makes it a movie you will not want to miss.

One caveat: at our press screening, the sound was too loud, making it more difficult than usual – combined with the Welsh and British accents – to hear the dialogue. It needs to be toned down.

I will leave it to others to figure out why the English are so brilliant at turning homophobia, working-class poverty and the soul-crushing cruelty of small-town bigotry into redemptive comedies that make you want to click your heels. But the fact is that they do and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pride turned into a musical comedy, one that plays on Broadway for years and years.

Pride opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 19, nationwide, September 26, 2014.


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