‘Pride’ embodies a certain type of populist British comedy that peaked with ‘The Full Monty’. The formula is simple: take a topic that would have been subversive 15 years ago, stage it as a Frank Capra comedy, and watch the stream of housewives pile into theaters thinking that they’re watching something edgy. This is far from the worst example of the genre, but it toes the line loud and proud.
The film is based on a true story so perfect for this type of movie that it’s shocking this many years passed before it was made. In the mid-1980s, mining workers across the UK struggled through an endless strike feuding with the delightfully awful Thatcher government. A group of gay activists formed a charity group called Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners (LGSM). While the miner’s union overall rejected the offer for fear of the stigma of being associated with such a group, a few individual rural mining companies accepted the donations and even became friends with their fabulous new urban supporters. The story peaked when busloads of Welsh miners arrived in London to lead the 1985 Gay Pride parade, months after the strike ended.
For their film, writer Stephen Beresford and director Matthew Warchus have simplified the story for dramatic purposes. ‘Pride’ shrinks things down to a single gay activist group with a handful of members and one Welsh mining community. Other than that, it’s a straight run through the events, and one of those movies that will fill even the most cynical viewer with warm fuzzies by the end. Ultimately, Beresford and Warchus play the movie as a culture clash comedy with a message of cultural acceptance as an aftertaste. At its best, the movie mines the great well of British humiliation and awkwardness for comedic gold. At its worst, there are scenes with old women giggling at dildos and Dominic West bringing two diverse communities together through disco dancing. (*Shudder*)
The film can be impossibly corny, especially in the awkwardly manufactured subplot about a young man learning to come out of the closet with pride through the events. But it can also be funny and moving, just enough to feel like a success.
The main reason why the film works is the excellent cast. Bill Nighy in particular deserves a shrine somewhere in England dedicated to his incredible ability to find laughs in the smallest of actions. Yet, the film has plenty of other major talents as well, like West (McNulty from ‘The Wire’), Mike Leigh favorite Imelda Staunton, and of course the ever-excellent Paddy Considine (‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’) who is incapable of a bad performance. By stacking the deck with fine British thesps, Warchus is able to consistently pull genuine laughs and emotion out of even the cheesiest scenes. The remarkable true story (which would be impossible to believe had it not actually happened) takes care of the rest.
‘Pride’ is a cute movie, a sweet movie, and a funny movie. There’s not much to it beyond that, but there doesn’t need to be. When done right, this school of gentle British comedy feels like a warm hug and pot of tea from your great auntie in England. You may not remember much of this wisp of a comedy after the credits roll, but you’ll smile in the moment.