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Win for only gays in the village

The West Australian

FILM

Pride

Ben Schnetzer, Imelda Staunton

DIRECTOR MATTHEW WARCHUS

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This Cannes-winning film mines a formulaic shaft used frequently in recent times, one based in British industrial strife and seemingly always set in quaint little villages.

Some of the experiments have worked wonders, others not quite so. But while it sounds an exaggeration, Pride is an uplifting, sure-fire crowd-pleaser that may well be the best of them all.

The feel-good offering from director Matthew Warchus, suffused in 80s music and nostalgia, is taken from the real-life 1984 dispute between prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the National Union of Mineworkers over coalmine closures.

With the miners standing firm and embarking on a protracted and debilitating strike, a band of gay activists - seeing similarities in the way both groups are pilloried by PM, press and police - opt to show their support by raising money for the strikers and their families.

Despite encountering initial resistance, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners - led by activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) - find support from a small town in Wales' Dulais Valley, after a misunderstanding with a confused local woman seals the unexpected alliance.

But once arriving in the village of Onllywyn, the group - despite presenting the funds they have thus far collected - are treated with disdain by most of the miners, whose self-respect has already been whittled away by their increasing reliance on their wives.

In an era when homosexuals were reviled and communities were grappling with the onset of AIDS, the prospect of accepting welfare from "poofs", as one of the gay characters states, proves too hard to stomach for most of the community, except for a small group headed by benevolent striker Dai (Paddy Considine) and old- school village elder Cliff (Bill Nighy), plus a bevy of good-hearted working-class matriarchs, including the outspoken Hefina (Imelda Staunton).

It is the ensuing culture clash that provides much of the film's entertainment, as both sides come to grips with the nuances of one another, the frippery and flamboyance of the gays clearly contrasting with the dourness of the miners.

In a show-stealing scene, the theatrical Jonathon (Dominic West) demonstrates some spectacular dancing moves to the womenfolk, who in turn are inspired to move out of the shadows of their husbands.

Encouraged by a fiery Hefina at the helm, a group of drunken village women later wander though the gay bars of London with a game sangfroid belying their obvious naivete, culminating in a sleep-in at Jonathon's pad where they encounter a sprinkling of male centrefolds and sex toys.

There are a lot of names and faces to handle but Warchus ensures the audience is able to differentiate between all the personalities, a task made easier by fine performances from the stellar cast. The story, as intricate as it is, is filled with moments of great emotional power, triumphs and tragedy.

Amid the jokes about miner machismo and lesbian cuisine, writer Stephen Beresford doesn't shy from addressing the devastation that will face the miners if the pits close. Nor does he ignore the fear the gay community feels at the threat of HIV, a point made all the more poignant when it is revealed at the end of the film that, in real life, Ashton died from the disease when only 26.

While the movie sometimes meanders close to cliches and sledgehammer humour, Warchus directs strongly, ensuring it never falls into schmaltz, managing to circumvent them with wholesome open-heartedness and the core message of solidarity: that standing together makes for the strongest union of all.

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