London, 1984: An unlikely partnership is forged. Realizing that the police who used to brutalize them have found a new target—and reasoning that the enemy of the enemy could be a friend—a collective of gay and lesbian activists begins raising funds for the National Union Of Mineworkers, then in the process of a nationwide strike. Piling into a pair of minibuses and a VW camper, representatives of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) travel to the small Welsh community of Neath—a place of presumably “traditional” values—to present their donations in person. Here, walls of ancient prejudice are torn down as two oppressed groups converge to fight a common foe.
Bringing this stirring true story to the screen was a no-brainer, and Pride milks it for all the fish-out-of-water humor and cornball uplift it’s worth. Made in the seriocomic mold of such feel-good British entertainments as Billy Elliot and The Full Monty—with a touch of the yes-we-can spirit of Milk—the film swings for the cheap seats early and often. It’s a shamelessly sentimental dramatization, but is there any shame in feeling sentimental about this story? Pride celebrates a gay-straight alliance during an era of rampant homophobia, remembering the quiet civil-rights victory its subjects snatched from the jaws of defeat. It’s reasonable to get misty-eyed about such a historic joining of forces, even if the film exploring it downplays the less-than-heartening way the strike actually ended. (Spoiler alert: The miners lost.)
It helps, of course, that Pride has a hefty ensemble of gifted British character actors throwing their backs into the rah-rah populism. Excepting that great villain of the working class, Margaret Thatcher—who appears only in archival footage—the most notable of the movie’s real-life characters is the late LGSM leader Mark Ashton, sharply portrayed by Ben Schnetzer as a cocksure, baby-faced idealist. If the movie has a protagonist, however, it’s closeted wallflower Joe (George MacKay), who joins the group behind his parents’ back and is soon accompanying a handful of comrades (among them characters played by Sherlock’s Andrew Scott and The Wire’s Dominic West) on the road trip to Wales. Much of the film concerns the way in which these fearless crusaders won over their old-fashioned allies, chipping away at bigotry and mistrust through the power of their convictions. They didn’t do it alone, at least according to the movie: The aging leadership in Neath is presented as a bastion of inclusiveness, warmly receptive to the movement’s new advocates. And who could resist the reason voiced by Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, and Imelda Staunton?
Pride handles its central conflict with broad strokes, sometimes leaning on lame comedy: Most of the laugh lines hinge on the hilarity of little old British ladies asking candid questions about homosexuality, while one local comes around when he realizes he can impress the opposite sex with dance moves he learns from West’s out-and-proud veteran. Furthermore, the film largely plays lip-service to the rationale behind the strike; director Matthew Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford are clearly more invested in the burgeoning gay-rights movement than in the labor dispute their characters involved themselves in.
That much becomes clear by the end, when the movie plays up the positive outcomes of the alliance—including the addition of LGBT equality to the Labour Party’s platform—rather than focus on the strike’s failure. Then again, doing the latter would deflect the positive vibes the filmmakers put out, especially during a genuinely rousing final march set to Welsh protest music. Manipulative but big-hearted, Pride is an ode to activism as a social equalizer, and a gushy illustration of the belief that hearts and minds can be changed, and that it’s impossible to truly battle oppression without opposing all forms of oppression. Why resist?