Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Pride is one of the grandest celebrations of life and love I’ve seen on the big screen, a fiercely bold, brilliant effort that shines a light on British gay activists in the 1980s. It’s rare to see a film preach such valiant ideas and it always feels relevant, particularly in an age when homophobia continues to affect family life while making others sick at the thought of human beings treating each other so senselessly and hatefully. Leave it, then, to a British film set thirty years in the past to feel more culturally and politically relevant than almost every recent American effort. Here, we are provided with characters that are so joyously living life and attempting to communicate that gay and lesbian rights should not be something that causes this much uproar. Human beings loving one another is not unnatural; hating them is. That’s at the forefront of closeted 20-year old Joe’s (George MacKay) mind, a young man who walks onto a gay pride parade in hopes of being able to identify with others like him. Outsiders spew hate speech while an old lady holds up a sign saying he’ll burn in hell. Homophobia is a universal issue.
The film takes place on the backdrop of the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike in the UK, using Joe and his recently encountered gay friends as participants in pushing forth the movement. Joe meets a local gay rights’ leader named Mark (Ben Schnetzer), alongside other members like Steph (Faye Marsay) and Mike (Joseph Gilgun). They form a group that will gain them attention and hopefully other supporters in LGSM, standing for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. It doesn’t have a perfect ring to it, as some point out, but it gets the message across. Nonetheless, they head to Wales in search of miner supporters, cutting past the unions and heading right to the source. In this mining town, they find Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and Cliff (Bill Nighy), two people that endorse the movement and hope that the presence of gays might influence the miners to encourage raising money for support. There’s plenty of backlash in the town, particularly amongst those that don’t see how support for gay rights can align with the plight of the unionized miners. But support begins to build up as money is raised, and the two join forces in hopes that they can create a lasting connection to celebrate their lives. The content allows the performances to shine through, and all of the young actors are superb, particularly McKay. The adults provide subtlety in their actions and how bravely they embrace people that most of society scorns. Nighy is outstanding, as always.
The film feels so unique yet identifiable in its deft mixture of storytelling and emotion, slyly mixing in character development alongside its real-life story and consistent bouts of humor. It’s a hilarious film, something that might not be seen in a premise as serious as this. Perhaps most importantly, though, the humor comes from the characters entering situations that ring true to their types, never forcing jokes and making them stem from their own unique minds. There’s a particularly playful scene where Steph keeps asking to be affectionately called dyke since the men are only talking about themselves in offensive terms. She feels left out, but also embraces the term and uses it for strength. Beauty emerges from these characters and their search for happiness in a world that denies them that because it doesn’t seem natural. It’s a traditional plight for gay characters in film, but it still remains wholly resonant, especially when closeted characters receive encouragement to embrace their individuality. I thought, as the film reached its powerful, emotionally resonant conclusion, how audiences will view Pride in thirty years. Will we still have the same issues with gay rights in our society today, or will we be more embracing of sexuality and identity? All I know is that the film received the most applause of any film I have seen all year, and rightfully so. It’s a remarkable achievement in humanist filmmaking.
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)