Last night our Welsh class went to see Pride. What’s that? A bit slow? Pride was released in Melbourne a month ago. But our decision was made well in advance of its screening. We would attend Pride in place of the ‘official’ last class – as opposed to the BBQ which was the ‘unofficial’ last class – and the invitation would extend to partners and friends.
We wanted to see Pride because it was set in Wales. Full stop. Does there need to be another reason? Okay, so it was also being touted as the latest British feel good movie, its industrial decline tales not unlike other British classicsThe Full Monty, Billy Elliot, and Brassed Off. Pedalling down Lygon Street towards the cinema my expectations were sky high. This should have been a recipe for disappointment. Yet somehow the movie managed to exceed my expectations.
Pride tells the true story of an alliance between a London based group of Lesbian and Gay activists (LGSM) and Welsh coal workers during the 1984 British Miner’s Strike. Its depiction of this seemingly unlikely friendship is both poignant and shocking. But before we look at the LGBT aspects of the story let’s get my Welshophile reflections out of the way.
- The movie was set in South Wales, from the pebble dash council houses, to the nineteen eighties working men’s clubs, to the picket lines, the mullet hairstyles, and the impossibly spelled place names, it was all there in its ugly lovely industrial glory.
- A member of our class went to school with one of the actors. Well, of course. Everyone in Wales went to school with an actor. I am getting used to this phenomenon.
- There are gentle, self effacing character’s like Dai the miner in every Welsh village.
- Ditto for the history and poetry loving Cliff (Bill Nighy’s character). Not a bad accent either.
- And sadly some bigots too.
- The women were strong minded, outspoken. No surprises there. Ask me about my mum and her sisters.
- Of course, the miner’s wives sang. I have stood on the site of an old Welsh church with a group of Welsh Australians and sung Calon Lan. That’s what Welsh people do. They sing.
- It hurt real bad watching the miners march back to work, defeated.
- The final scene when they made that roll call of Glamorgan miner’s groups was truly spine tingling. I thought, yes, these are my people.
By the end of the movie there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema. I’m not exaggerating. Pride is one of the most powerful motion pictures I have ever seen. The story is largely told from the points-of-view of the lesbian and gay activists, many of their characters based on real people. These men and women’s lives are the engine house of the story, its primary source of dramatic tension and, although there were some laugh aloud, stereotypical moments, there is never a sense of ridicule. Here are my overall impressions of the LGBT aspects of the movie:
- People can be cruel. No one deserves to be spat upon or told they are disgusting. Yet, this still happens. Even in families. By members of my faith community. I live in constant apology for this subset of Christianity.
- It takes courage to be true to yourself in the face of insults and intimidation. Like real courage.
- The movie doesn’t shy away from showing the LGBT scene in all its diversity – the men’s clubs, the parties, the F…. you attitudes, the loyalty, the love, the laughter, creativity, friendships, flamboyance and the factions were all there. The film richer for its honesty.
- Pride painted the AIDS epidemic with a light brush. We didn’t need more. A few deft strokes were enough. We all know the effects of this devastating epidemic. The small biographic notes at the end of the movie were telling. Especially Mark Ashton’s. God that was painful.
- One of the characters, Joe, a young middle class young man from Bromley who is attending his first Gay Pride march, was fictional, his character created as an audience surrogate – namely a person with whom viewers can sympathise. The short scene when his parents confront him about his sexuality is harrowing.
Despite the cruelty, suffering and bigotry Pride remains a strangely uplifting experience. The fact that it is being shown as a main-stream movie and gathering rave reviews shows how far we have come towards accepting LGBT members of our community. This is the lasting triumph of the LGSM. Not that the miners were forced back to work. Or how Maggie and her crew went on to decimate industrial South Wales (along with parts of England). Some forces are beyond our control. No matter how we may wish it otherwise. But when people clasp hands, for that small moment in time, they are made new and the world breathes easier for the experience.