Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Years of tension between the National Union of Mineworkers and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher boiled over in the spring of 1984. Inspired by their own skirmishes with authorities, a group of gay activists formed the “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” program and began raising money in their neighborhood to help subsidize the strikers and their struggling families. But when the miners’ union declined their financial assistance out of fear of being openly associated with a gay group, LGSM decided to bypass the union altogether, instead bringing their aid directly to a small town in Wales. Reluctantly, the rustic township agreed to accept the donations, and in turn, formed a singular alliance between these two differing communities.
A prolific Broadway director who was awarded the 2009 Best Director of a Play Tony for God of Carnage, Matthew Warchus has only twice ventured into the world of feature films. His 1999 directorial debut, Simpatico starring Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte, and Sharon Stone, was panned by both critics and movie fans including famed film writer Roger Ebert who described the film as “a long slog through perplexities and complexities.” After a fifteen-year hiatus, Warchus has reemerged a far more confident and capable filmmaker, teaming up with first-time screenwriter Stephen Beresford to adeptly bring this engrossing true story to the big screen. Reminiscent of a Richard Curtis film (Love Actually, Pirate Radio), Beresford’s perceptive script is chock-full of comedic banter that skillfully avoids coming off as too sentimental or schmaltzy. Overall, Warchus has thoughtfully brought to light a gratifying story of benevolence and friendship.
Describing the film’s cast as exceptional would be an understatement. A perfect blend of veteran stars and talented fresh faces, Pride showcases the immense talents of the British acting community. Among the group of young up-and-comers, however, it is American-born actor, Ben Schnetzer, who stands head and shoulders above the rest. A native New Yorker blessed with a gift for authentic British dialect, Schnetzer fearlessly embodies the brazen outspokenness of LGSM leader, Mark. At only age 24, Schnetzer, who also impressed in last year’s WWII drama, The Book Thief, has displayed true star-in-the-making talents. Another of the film’s budding performers, George MacKay, captures the wide-eyed innocence of Pride’s unlikely protagonist, Joe, a sheltered young man who is beginning to discover unknown truths about himself. Together, these two, along with the superbly cast Dominic West, lead an amusing mixture of societal outcasts attempting to aid their fellow brothers in their arduous fight against the Thatcherian establishment.
The ensemble of Welsh townspeople is brimming with a who’s who of seasoned British thespians. Oscar-nominated Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) offers a resolute and amusing portrayal as town leader, Hefina. Joining Staunton is British star Paddy Considine, an actor known more for playing unconventional, rough-and-tumble characters. In his portrayal of Dai, the town representative sent to meet with the LGSM group, Considine brings a genuine warmth and goodness that shines greatest when he’s asked to address of a group of gay bar patrons. While a bit hesitant, it is Dai who first sees the true goodwill and generosity these young men and women are offering and accepts their kindness with gratitude. Remarkably though, the performer who surprised me most was long-time actor Bill Nighy. Seeing Nighy’s name in the opening credits, I fully expected him to play some amusingly irreverent version of…Bill Nighy. Instead, I was charmed by how lovingly toned down his portrayal was. Reserved and painfully soft-spoken, Nighy’s character Cliff is a gentle man who finds an unexpected level of reinvigoration thanks to the infusion of these philanthropic young people. While I’m not sure if Oscar buzz is in Nighy’s near future, it was a true pleasure to see a performance unlike anything I’ve seen from him before.
Over the last century, cinema has been one of the most successful art forms to help encourage compassion and understanding of different walks of life. Pride is the latest creation to show how overcoming fear and misconceptions can lead to acceptance, empathy, and a solidarity between communities that are socially and culturally different. Pride is an unapologetically lighthearted and exuberant breath of fresh air that will have you rolling in the aisles with delight. Jam-packed with some of Britain’s most gifted actors and blessed with an infectious jocularity, Warchus’ film is unblushing in its attempt to share this little-known true story with an irresistibly wit-filled charm that becomes impossible to rebuff.-JL