There’s no shortage of films and shows that have mined the UK’s 1984-85 coal workers strike for plots, although few–with possibly the slight exception of Billy Elliot–have touched on the National Union of Mineworkers’ most unexpected ally: the then-persecuted LGBT community. Pride, which premiered at Cannes before making its way to Toronto, sticks pretty close to the big facts while having fun with its ragtag collection of so-called Pits and Perverts.
There’s a mix of old and new in director Matthew Warchus’ creation. He pits Britain’s acting alums against the young faces of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign as they try to win over a small village in Wales that they’ve taken upon themselves to support through the strike. Quirky Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) is adorable as the poetry loving Cliff, while Imelda Staunton’s Hefina finally helped me forgive Umbridge. They make up the surprisingly open-minded older set that end up facing off against their friends and family when they decide to welcome LGSM into their homes. Meanwhile, LGSM founder and all-around ringleader Mark stubbornly drags his friends into his plan (as it’s established early on that’s just what they do), realizing that the two communities have more in common than they think. They’ve both got a big picture idea that feels naively simple until it starts working.
Overall, Pride is plenty cute and expectedly fun, sticking to the lighter side of the strike crisis and the growing terror of HIV in the ’80s, although not without at least touching on either of those and how they come to affect the main cast. Thanks to that, the film can’t entirely escape certain overdone tropes of LGBT cinema, but the dry humour in Stephen Beresford script helps those moments along even after we go through one dramatic reveal after another.
While I was initially most excited to see George MacKay (This Is How I Live Now) back with another TIFF entry, relative newcomer Ben Schnetzer becomes the film’s most charismatic element as Mark, flinging witty insults, stumbling through introductions (“If one in five men are gay, then at least a fifth of you have to be happy to see us.”) and teaching MacKay’s Joe what it means to really come out. I also have to hand it to Faye Marsay (The White Queen) for her spunky portrayal of Steph, which nearly wrenched the film out of Mark’s hands for me. Jessica Gunning was just as impressive as Sian, who, despite being new to the town, pushed them to welcome their unexpected supporters with bull-headed charm and drew attention to the women of the mining towns while giving them a chance to make some decisions of their own.
There’s plenty more at stake than Mark’s plan as the members of LGSM deal with the brutal homophobia of the time while the miners struggle against Thatcher’s crippling policies in what we already know was a losing battle. But Pride is ultimately an uplifting story that revels in camp and overturning expectations. And without wanting to spoil the ending, there’s an emotional grand entrance in the final minutes that manages to remind you that for all its laughs and outrageous dance routines (the usually serious Dominic West finally having some fun), this is really a touching story about empathy and overcoming bias—on all sides.