“When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger and stronger than you, to find out you have a friend that you never knew existed — that’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Dai Donovan — a clean-cut, docile, middle-aged, small-town miner — graciously professes to a jam-packed gay-and-lesbian-pub. The crowd erupts with thunderous applause as techno music fades in.
This is the seemingly awkward marriage — between a rural, working class, socially conservative coal mining community and an urban, punk-rock, anarchist, gay-and-lesbian commune — that “Pride” invites us to explore.
The 2014 film, written by Stephen Beresford, relays the true story of a group of gay and lesbian people who organized and raised money under the guise of Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners (LGSM) to support a striking Welsh coal mining community in the mid-1980s. The miners’ strike was a show of resistance to then-Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s initiative to dismantle and privatize the nationalized coal industry by closing 70 “pits,” as the mines are called. The strike lasted over a year, included 180,000 miners and gained national attention for the contentious relationship between the police and picketers.
The film’s plot is driven by a young, optimistic activist, Mark Ashton, who is played well by Ben Schnetzer, as he captures the charisma, energy, and courage reserved only for a gay man who is willing to unapologetically insert himself into an initially-hostile backwoods community.
“One in five people are gay, so that means one in five miners have to be gay, too, right?” Ashton playfully asks the hall of awestruck miners in their first meeting, setting the scene for what turns out to be a laughter-laced growing experience for both groups.
While the film is a light-hearted comedy, Beresford doesn’t shy away from exploring the devastating oppressions faced by each group. The audience meets Joe, played by George MacKay, a young, clean-cut, straight-edged, momma’s boy from the London suburbs who is deathly terrified that his parents will find out that he’s gay. But his orientation is discovered, and the audience is forced to watch the coming-of-age 20-year-old wrestle with the scorn delivered by his conservative parents, which eventually presses him to desert home.
Joe’s narrative is told alongside the story of Cliff, played by Bill Nighy, a man in his late 60s who has lived his entire life in the Welsh mining town and is desperately trying to hold his nearly-starving community together. “Without these mines, this community would be gone,” he confides to members of LGSM. “The pits and the people are one and the same.”
In brief, the audience will find much comic relief in the film, but will never lose sight of exactly what the involved parties are fighting for — their livelihoods.
Though the two groups meet in resistance, they develop a form of solidarity that transcends fundraising and a strong detest for an oppressive prime minister. Beresford places his characters in back-alley gay bars and community halls, dancing, drinking, sharing stories and cultivating community for most of his two-hour film. Hence, while the bond between LGSM and the miners is forged and crystallized through adversity, the audience learns that their empathy, solidarity and search for justice are made of something more than the harsh circumstances that have accented them.
Indeed, the film shows that the human spirit is inclined to, as the motif of the film goes, “stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand” with one’s neighbor, even in spite of the divisive, inhumane norms — like homophobia — in which we are all entrenched.
In this, the film is instructive not only on what it means to be gay, lesbian, or part of the working class — but also on what it means to be human.