"Pride", the new British film about a group of gay and lesbian activists who get inspired to raise money for striking mine workers in 1984, is a pretty good example of the type of feel-good British film we used to see a lot more of in the local independent multiplex.
But it isn't quite as good as say "The Full Monty" or "Calendar Girls"- because it features so many well-known British actors, and more that deserve to be well-known, some of the characters fail to make much of an impression and get a little lost. This is a shame, because we have seen films like this when every character was a very memorable part of the narrative. When it doesn't happen, it seems like a little bit of a let-down.
I suspect that because of the subject matter, the film will probably live beyond its normal shelf life. It was also a brilliant idea to call the movie "Pride" - because of that alone it will probably become a yearly event in many areas of the world.
Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is the activist leading a small group of gays and lesbians who participate in the Gay Pride march in London every year. Tired of the insults and having things thrown at him, he decides he needs to lead the group to do something else, anything else, to revive their spirits and to attract attention to their cause. He enlists his small group of loyal followers, including among others Mike (Joseph Gilgun), who would clearly follow Mark to the ends of the Earth, Joe (George McKay), a young man who sneaks away from his home to participate in the group’s activities and Gethin (Andrew Scott, Moriarty in "Sherlock") and his flamboyant actor boyfriend, Jonathan (Dominic West, HBO's "The Wire"), who run the gay bookstore where they all meet.a flamboyant actor. There are a couple of other guys and girls in the group as well, but they each only have a couple of minutes and they get lost. They begin to collect money for Striking Mine Workers and raise a nice chunk of change. The next problem? Who do they give the money to? They eventually make contact with Onllwyn, a small mining village in southern Wales. Once they arrive, the gay activists realize the miners are split about whether they should even accept the help - what would it look like, accepting help from THEM. Dai (Paddy Considine, "The Bourne Ultimatum", "Red Riding"), the leader of the striking miners, is only too happy for their assistance and welcomes them with open arms. Hefina (Imelda Staunton, "Vera Drake", "Harry Potter", "Maleficent"), the head of the relief committee and Sian (Jessica Gunning, lots of British TV credits), a miner’s wife and recent addition the committee, welcome the activists into their homes, giving them board for the night. Hefina seems determined to bully anyone who doesn't accept the gay activists with open arms. Bill Nighy ("Love, Actually", "About Time", "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") plays Cliff, another striking miner who seems a little bewildered by all of the commotion. In fact, Maureen (Lisa Palfrey) seems to be the sole, constant, very vocal voice of dissent.
There are a lot of characters in "Pride" and that serves as the film's main problem as well. A film with this many characters risks some of them getting lost and relegated to the background. The key factor to the success of these small independent films is the sense of intimacy they are able to build between the viewer and the narrative. If this feeling of intimacy isn’t achieved, you don’t sit on the edge of your seat waiting to see the every move of the characters in the story. “Pride” simply has too many characters to allow us to build any sense of caring. Some of the characters resonate, but many others do not. One way to make this work is to give each some back story, some character development, the film becomes rich and full of life. But even the most seasoned director would have trouble giving all of the people something to help them stand out. And director Matthew Warchus isn't that seasoned. As a result, many of the characters become simple window dressing. Thankfully, there are casualties on both sides, preventing any cries of protest.
Strangely, the most prominent example of this is the lead, played by Ben Schnetzer. Mark Ashton is super confident and super charismatic from the moment we meet him. He is the type of guy who gets an idea and makes it happen. He realizes his group of gay and lesbian followers (they don’t really seem to be all that friendly) should raise money for the Striking Mine Workers because they are now getting the type of abusive treatment once reserved for the gays and lesbians. gets an idea and he makes it happen. Schnetzer is a good looking guy, but we never really learn what makes him tick. Why is he so politically motivated? Mark makes a couple of impassioned statements over the course of the film and these are meant to give insight into his character. But the statements really don't say anything specific about Mark because they are more generic and more about the Gay Experience. Mark is a very magnetic character, so you won't be bored, you just won't learn that much about him.
The relationship between Gethin and Jonathan has some nice details making it stand out - It is very obvious they have been together for a while and they have some significant differences, which probably served to make them more attractive to one another. Andrew Scott, so good as Moriarty in "Sherlock", tones it down a little. Gethin seems a little jaded and we later learn a little about a very touching and moving part of his life. Dominic West, who anchored perhaps the second best television show of all time, brings a nice touch of drama to his portrayal of the flamboyant actor.
Joseph Gilgun plays Mike, the brains behind Mark’s activist group, the one who is always willing and able to make his voice of reason heard. It is also evident he would gladly follow Mark to war, standing at his side, handing him the bullets. But we don't ever really learn why. There are other members of this group, but their impact is smaller and if I go on and on about every character, we're going to be here until the next Gay Pride march.
After Warchus introduces us to the crew of gay activists, the story shifts to the small Welsh mining village. There are literally dozens of extras playing the striking miners, so the thought of meeting that many new characters is, frankly, a little overwhelming. It almost seems like “Pride” is rebooting to introduce us to these new characters. Thankfully, only a handful of the miners feature in the story. But we have the same problem here as we do with the activists. There are simply too many people to concentrate on, so some of them get lost and pushed to the side.
Dai (Considine) is also the delegate sent to meet with the gay activists in London. He welcomes them with open arms and becomes their host when they arrive in the Welsh mining village. Imelda Staunton is very good as Hefina, the woman organizing the relief program for the striking miners. She doesn't care if the activists are gay and realizes they are trying to help, so she immediately begins to rally the troops to welcome their visitors and to support their efforts. Jessica Gunning plays Sian, the wife of one of the strikers, who decides to become involved. Because of her tenacity and forcefulness, she becomes a leading member of the relief program. Lisa Palfrey plays Maureen, the mother of two of the strikers who seems opposed to everything the activists stand for. And Bill Nighy plays Cliff, a rather meek man who supports the relief workers but seems to have difficulty getting his voice heard.
After we are introduced to everyone, the groups begin traveling back and forth for various reasons, becoming more fully invested in each other's lives. The activists travel to Wales a couple of times and the Welsh contingent travels to London to help with a big fundraiser.
"Pride" is pretty predictable, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. This allows us to spend more time trying to follow all of the characters around - a more cutting edge-story would be too much of a distraction. In the film, we have a young man who will be outed unintentionally, a character who has AIDS (remember this is set in 1984, so AIDS is still a newer thing for many of these men to comprehend) and a man who hasn't come out yet. The Welsh miners and their support team are predictable as well. Some will learn to speak out. Others will have their already loud voices heard. And when the two groups meet, they begin to interact and cause changes within the other group, enriching each other’s lives.
If you have seen "The Full Monty" or any other film in this genre, you can pretty much map out the character and story beats from the beginning.
Much like "The Hundred-Foot Journey", "Pride" is a well-made, predictable but also welcome film ready and willing to fill a void for many filmgoers. Many are just fed -up with the special effects -laden films filling multiplexes. When a smaller, more intimate character driven film comes along, it is embraced, even if it is predictable, because it is like a warm hug.
"Pride" is a warm hug for one and all, gay or straight, young and old.