Ever since I saw Jake Gyllenhaal get killed near the end of Brokeback Mountain I’ve gotten the strange feeling that I’ve seen his character die over and over again in different ways. In addition to, and in thanks to, Brokeback, there are a lot of high quality works of gay literature, TV, and film. But there are also a lot of them that turn out less than stellar for their protagonists. There seems to be an obsession with a kind of academic and sobering historicism that LGBT films are forced to subscribe to. Because for many content creators, it seems that they can only tell the truth of the gay experience by uttering tragedy in the same breath. That’s why films like Pride are so stand out: a plot which centres around gay and lesbian characters but not around romance, and an ending that manages to include sacrifice and heartbreak while still being optimistic and uplifting. In a way, it seems like gay films are going through the growth of a lot of depressed gay teens in terms of plot and theme: “people will ridicule me if they find out,” “okay now I’m out but my life is still guaranteed to be miserable,” and “it’s going to be difficult but maybe I can do this.” Pride is amazing because it leaps ahead of that process. It manages to not only tell a unique piece of gay history while being entertaining, without being overly downtrodden, it also does it without simply saying “maybe we can do this.” It does it while saying “maybe that thing you hated about yourself is the thing that makes you a hero.”
The film tells the tale of the L.G.S.M (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), a group that formed during the UK miners strike of 1984-1985 in support of the struggling British miners. It’s a unique tale, one that asserts the necessity of a political Pride, and one made better by a lot of smaller moving parts. We have George MacKay as Joe “Bromley” Cooper, a character who is a complete fiction, and who is a teen dealing with the struggle of being closeted to his parents; we have Stephanie Chambers, one of the few lesbians that stuck it out with LGSM when most women seceded to make a different but similar group; there’s Jonathan Blake that struggles with his HIV positive status, Gethin who’s been disowned by his parents, Bill Nighy’s elderly and still closeted Cliff Barry, Dai, leader of the men’s union, Imelda Staunton’s refreshingly benevolent Hefina Headon, and many more. Part of the pure enjoyment of the film comes from this odd but charming bond formed between this group of gays and lesbians and this Welsh town of miners and their wives. It really manages to show off the appeal and hilarity of films that can capture the positive idiosyncrasies of gay-straight interactions.
The style of cinematography is brisk and upbeat, but also patient. One minute you’re seeing the group marching in the 1984 Pride, the next you’re watching the group form in a gay bookshop, and then they’re off to Wales amidst beautiful sweeping shots of the UK countryside. Often though, the film has the sense to slow down for some truly poignant reveals and growth. When Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton sit buttering bread for care packages in complete silence only to have Nighy’s character suddenly come out, clearly moved by the efforts of their new allies in the LGSM, it is an exceptionally powerful moment. There are a lot of tear jerking events and surprises like this throughout Pride, but the emphasis here is certainly on the happy tears thanks to the movie’s expert navigation of tone, due in large part to an uninhibitedly spunky directorial style.
The ultimate fate of Mark Ashton, leader and founder of LGSM, and his struggle with AIDS is one of the more sobering water-works inducers in Pride. There’s a moment in the film where Mark Ashton speaks with Dai amidst the Welsh countryside. He says, “I grew up in Northern Ireland, I know all about what happens when people don’t talk to each other. That’s why I’ve never understood what’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody else’s rights, you know? Or worker’s rights but not women’s rights. It’s-… I dunno- illogical.” And Dai tells him, “there’s a lodge banner down in the welfare. Over a hundred years old. We bring it out for special occasions, you know. I’ll show it to you one day. It’s a symbol […] two hands, that’s what the labour movement means. Should mean. You support me, I support you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand.” It’s that message in combination with Mark and the others gayness that makes the accomplishments of the LGSM so heroic. The two are inseparable, and that’s an accomplishment. Because of his struggle, Ashton became an influential activist who used his own experience to go outside his own culture and help whoever needed it. And that’s why the last we see of him in the film is him riding atop the shoulders of his friends and allies at the 1985 London Pride. The movie makes this conscious choice because the people making it have not underestimated Ashton’s accomplishments. They also have not underestimated what this ending, seeing this optimism, can do for gays or whoever else watches this film or films like it. Never underestimate that.