Pride | Hannah Lawson casts a critical eye over Stephen Beresford’s latest film, the story of forgotten communities and solidarity in Thatcher’s Britain.
Pride is based on a true story, little known until now, about a group of lesbian and gay activists who decide to raise funds to support the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5. Finding their London Trade Union branches unwilling to speak to them, they take their donations directly to a community in the Dulais Valley.
On the face of it, the premise could suggest a rather twee and predictable tale: differences are overcome, lessons are learned, unlikely friendships forged, and a fuzzy feeling is had by all. But we all know it does not end well for the striking miners’ unions, so just how upbeat can it be, right?
This is where the scriptwriting really shines, highlighting some real surprises and leading to a final scene that is the most moving and positive that I have seen for years. It deftly handles a huge cast of strong characters and a wealth of personal stories, drawing each one out with humour, depth and poignancy. The casting and acting is perfect, no small contribution to the depth of the characters, with so many unforgettable performances that it seems churlish to single any one out. It was refreshing after watching so many Hollywood blockbusters full of long, impressive and expensive action scenes where plot and characterisation are abandoned (I am looking at you Marvel franchises) that not a single second of it was wasted in progressing the story, without sacrificing entertainment for ideology.
The recreation of the time period is spot on – the sets, costumes and styling perfectly evocative of the era. The soundtrack is a corker too, balancing the earnest protest songs of Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg with catchy synth pop and classics like The Smiths – not forgetting a nod to Paul Robeson.
It is also a masterful example of juggling the delicate balance between remaining faithful to the truth and creating a pacey, engaging narrative.
Anyone in any doubt of its authenticity should take a look at All Out! Dancing in Dulais, a homemade documentary video of 1986 collecting images and footage of events and interviews with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. However, watch Pride first – the emotional impact of its carefully constructed narrative deserves to be enjoyed fresh. It was in fact this piece of footage that was instrumental in writer Stephen Beresford’s research for his script, using Facebook to track down the activists from their names on the credits.
With the ‘hope from the adversity of the ‘industrial dispute’ aspect of the film, comparisons with Billy Elliot are inevitable. However, much as I love that film, it is essentially the story of an individual given the chance to be elevated from the grim poverty of a spent industrial town crushed by Thatcher to do the thing he loves. Pride dares to challenge Thatcher’s famous statement and suggest that it might actually be better to fight for everyone’s rights, improve everyone’s conditions, celebrate those ideas and ways of life that she fought so hard to destroy: community, unity, solidarity – society.
Running alongside it in cinemas is The Riot Club, the parody of Oxford’s privileged and elite Bullingdon Club. It is a timely reminder that three of the country’s most powerful positions, Prime Minister, Chancellor and Mayor of London, are held by Buller boys, and once again it is the minority groups and most vulnerable members of society who are being bullied and blamed for the country’s problems.
I should declare my bias here; nail my colours to the flag. Not only do I work for a museum of Welsh Industrial Heritage, I am also a Trade Union representative for my workplace, so I think it is fair to say that Pride was preaching to the converted in its positive depiction of Trade Unionism.
I have only been volunteering as a union rep for a few months, galvanised into a more grassroots approach by a lack of any representation amongst the main political parties.
And it is interesting how much the movement has changed in the past thirty years; of course it has weakened following the decline of heavy industry and greater legal restrictions placed on unions under successive Tory leaders, along with the distancing of the Labour Party from the 1980s onwards: dropping commitments to reverse anti-union laws, distancing itself from strike action. But it has also progressed. The long-term increase in the proportion of women in the workplace has been reflected in union membership, the macho donkey-jacketed tub-thumping Scargill-alikes are a rare sight now. The three union representatives of my workplace are all female; my two colleagues were not even born during the disputes of 1984-5, and as I was living abroad at the time, none of us witnessed the strikes or had ever heard of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners until the film’s release.
As Beresford pointed out:
I think it was a trauma in the country for everyone, all sides involved… those things take thirty years before everybody can calm down and look at it again. It is a very uplifting story about a terrible defeat – very British in that respect.
Another fact I came across, not mentioned in the film, told of how Arthur Scargill had instructed that any funds raised in the US or London were to go to his favoured pits in Kent and Yorkshire – South Wales was on its own – another reason that Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners took their donations directly to Onllwyn.
Back to 2014, and the poorest are being penalised for the mistakes of billionaires across the country, public services decimated and sold off, and budgets are hugely biased towards London. In my area of work, 71% of arts funding goes to London institutions, whereas every other region of the UK has to divide up the remaining 29% of an already smaller purse.
Our museum has been feeling the pinch of austerity and budget cuts along with nearly every other public service over the past couple of years, and our previously relatively inactive union has suddenly become a means of defending ourselves whilst facing the toughest cuts in our history. When organising industrial action over the summer throughout our sites, the committee was keen to stress that Pride Cymru would be exempt from strike action. In fact many union members joined both the picket line in Cardiff and the Pride festival on the day. Whilst I was pleasantly surprised that my more experienced colleagues took such a strong stance on supporting lesbian and gay rights, I had no idea of the history of this partnership. When I saw Pride the pieces fell into place, and I learned something extraordinary about my own area’s heritage, a perfectly timed reminder to be proud of.
Mewn Undeb mae Nerth.