The death of narrative cinema is constantly proclaimed and, with another summer of superhero blockbusters behind us, it can feel like the proclaimers are right. But every now and then comes a film that reinforces belief in the importance, nay, the necessity of storytelling. Pride is one such film. Prepare yourselves, this review might be gushingly un-British…
Directed with gusto by Matthew Warchus, the narrative of Pride concerns the efforts of a vocal, vivacious group of London-living homosexuals to support the miners of South Wales in their prolonged 1984 strike. A range of stories are played out against that historical reality: a young suburban fella’s immersion into a community very different from his own, a gay man looking into his distant, painful past & most prominently the meeting of two worlds that seem unlikely bedfellows. The story oscillates between the city streets where the homosexuals, while still persecuted, have their place, and the small town of Onllwyn in South Wales where homosexuality is less of a routine, more of a rumour.
From the first minute, the film is a beacon of joy. It is bold and in-your-face, occasionally using brushstrokes that could paint a building, but to extraordinary effect. I often find humour in the cinema but can’t always express my amusement audibly; I cry even more rarely. Pride brought me to both extremes, and that was in the first half hour.
It looks wonderful. In narrative-led comedy the visuals are sometimes the first thing to go, through fear of them distracting the audience from the jokes. Not so here; cinematographer Tat Radcliffe captures silent Welsh hills and the infectious energy of the Gay Pride marches with equal passion and beauty. The soundtrack vibrates with the anti-Thatcherian energy of the 80s – amongst others The Smiths, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and of course Billy Bragg all get an airing. Befitting a film that loudly champions unity, it has an ensemble cast who are all outstanding, given a hilarious, touching, humane script by Stephen Beresford. It almost feels unfair to single any one person out, but Ben Schnetzer is exceptional as Mark, the activist who demonstrates the power of positive action. Imelda Staunton gives a performance of such warmth, happiness and humanism that it banishes memories of Dolores Umbridge – her range is remarkable. There are many sublime moments, from a chorus of Bread and Roses led by the miners’ wives to Andrew Scott’s Gethin tenderly considering the agony of his persecuted adolescence. My personal favourite involves Dominic West, disco and a dancefloor – it is pure happiness.
The mentioned parts are all proof of great talent and make for enlivening viewing. However they only go so far to explaining why Pride is the most important film to see this year. The end of the screening I attended at the elegant Tyneside Cinema was met by euphoric applause from an ecstatic audience, who had laughed, cried at and loved the film together. I’m a frequent cinema-goer, and the only other time I have experienced such communal acclaim was after showings of Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, another ‘crowd-pleaser’ with similar themes of humanism and union. No-one needs to be told that the world is tough; we see it daily in news bulletins, reporting present violence and predicting future gloom in a supposedly disparate society. It is easy to believe we are doomed. Pride dances right in the face of that belief. The film has a political context and could improve public perception of socialism, but it also has a wider significance. It is about recognising our differences AND our similarities, embracing them and using them to bring us closer. It is a message relevant for all who are human. All who are human should go and see Pride.
How was that for Britishness?