Oppressed peoples often have a hard enough time protecting their own interests, let alone helping others; but sometimes these oppressed groups have the opportunity to come to one another’s aid despite their respective disadvantages and mutual differences. In 1984, when the British government threatened to shut down twenty coal mines and the National Union of Miners went on strike, a group of lesbian and gay activists from London came to the aid of one Welsh mining town called Onllwyn. Thirty years later, these historical events are depicted in “Pride,” a triumphant, life-affirming film about the power of cooperation and the resilience of the human spirit.


Michigan Theater
Code Pathé

The film opens with two dissimilar representatives of London’s gay community. One is Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer, “The Book Thief”), a young gay-rights activist, and the other is Joe Copper (George MacKay, “Defiance”), a closeted college student. Ashton is an established leader and outspoken voice in the lesbian and gay rights movement; Copper is shy, insecure and still uncertain and confused about his identity. The two come from very different parts of town — Ashton from his city apartment and Copper from his parents’ suburban home — but their lives intersect at a lesbian and gay pride parade on the streets of London and then again later that night at the meeting where Ashton propose the idea for Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners.

Though Ashton is clearly the leader of LGSM, “Pride” itself doesn’t have one distinct lead protagonist, but instead an ensemble cast of heroes. There are the highlighted members of LGSM, like Gethin (Andrew Scott, “Saving Private Ryan”), a gay bookstore owner with a complicated history with his Welsh motherland. And there’s his much older boyfriend Jonathon (Dominic West, “John Carter”), the grittiest of the group with a strong propensity for disco. There are also the citizens of Onllwyn, like Cliff (Bill Nighy, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and Hefina (Imelda Staunton, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”), two of the town’s least prejudiced and most charismatic civic leaders.

It’s easy to find this unconventional, ensemble-style storytelling frustrating, perhaps aggravated by the lack of recognizable Hollywood faces. “Pride” does indeed sacrifice much of the characters’ backstories in order to share the spotlight more equally, but ultimately having no one lead character makes sense for this film. The egalitarian spotlight reflects the story’s themes about cooperation and the fight for equal rights for all regardless of sexual orientation and level of property ownership.

The film, while based on a true story, is only loosely historical, yet it succeeds because it’s also very funny and sentimental. One might not think that there’s anything funny about prejudice against the LGBTQ community, but “Pride” finds humor in a heavy situation. “Pride” explains that heterosexual guys’ don’t need to be afraid that talking to gay men automatically arouses them, and it jokes that lesbians aren’t all vegetarians — they’re actually all vegans. The debunking of these kinds of myths and misunderstandings adds to the humor of the film, nicely complimenting the film’s serious political activist dimension. Ultimately, taking LGSM’s lead, the audience forgives most of the citizens of Onllwyn for their ignorance about gays and lesbians and accepts them as innocently ignorant due simply to lack of exposure.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the film is its emphatically positive and uplifting message. LGSM initially receives little support and lots of skepticism in the gay and lesbian community because they don’t perceive the miners as their friends or allies. And indeed the minersonly seem to know about the lesbian and gay community through fragmented myths and misconceptions. But the truth that both parties recognize — and from which they derive their united virtuosity and strength — is that they are essentially one and the same and therefore ought to support one another. Reciprocity is nice, but the reason to do something good — the reason the gays and lesbians decide to support the miners, for example — is not because the miners have or will specifically support the gays and lesbians; it’s because we all are one and therefore already all help and support one another. That is the takeaway of this film, and what makes “Pride” incredibly beautiful and inspiring to watch.

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