It says something about current global affairs that a movie set during the U.K. miners’ strike of the mid-1980s — an event that tore lives to shreds, representing a dismal and damaging period in late-20th-century British history — is likely to make you feel better rather than worse about the world. Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus, is a fictionalized account of how a group of gay and lesbian activists in 1984 London responded to Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to crush the miners unions, temporarily sidelining their own battles to raise funds for the striking workers and their families. Pride is an unapologetic feel-good movie, which means it pushes many predictable buttons: There are places where the music swells in rousing, overly manipulative waves. There’s the obligatory scene of an upright Welshwoman (Imelda Staunton) in sturdy tweeds and sensible pumps encountering a dildo for (ostensibly) the first time — she waves it in the air triumphantly, cackling like a Cymry Girl Gone Wild.
But by the time she starts swinging that Day-Glo dong around, you’ll probably be laughing with her: Pride is so ebullient and good-natured it would be hard not to, though part of what makes the movie work is its willingness to tread into the more somber corners of its subject matter — all the action takes place just as the AIDS epidemic has begun to decimate the gay community, thus opening up new avenues of hatred for bigots and fools. Warchus, working from a script by Stephen Beresford, may not be the most graceful director: Pride hits some bumpy patches when it switches gears between comedy and gentle pathos, which it does often. But its spirit is bold enough to power through the rough spots. It’s easy to find fault with Pride, but it’s not so easy to resist it.
Relative newcomer Ben Schnetzer (who recently appeared in The Book Thief) plays Mark Ashton, a charismatic young activist who, just as he’s ready to hit the 1984 Gay Pride march, catches a news spot about the miners’ plight. Feeling an immediate kinship with these men and their families — they too are struggling under Thatcher’s wrinkled, deadly thumb — he grabs a few buckets and begins collecting donations. At first there’s the usual skepticism from his compatriots, among them the shy, nervous bookstore owner Gethin (Andrew Scott), his flamboyant partner Jonathan (Dominic West), and saucy, slightly brittle Steph (Faye Marsay): Will these hardworking country people want such help, or even accept it? Mark, the group’s de facto firecracker, sweeps reticence aside. Before long, they’ve picked a random Welsh mining town off a map and made a phone call: A union lodge rep, Dai (Paddy Considine), comes to London to accept the money they’ve collected, not realizing that these well-meaning individuals seem to be nothing like him.
They are, of course, very much like him; Pride is all about the need for erasing minor differences and connecting over all the things that make us human, whether that’s a love of music and dancing, the satisfaction that comes from a day of hard work, or the comfort of having family close by. When Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) descends on the town it has chosen, its members are met with a mix of curiosity, distrust, and outright hostility. Then a number of inevitable movie-world things happen: The group gets taken on a tour of the area’s finest ancient ruin by the whispery-quiet Cliff (Bill Nighy), the town’s voice of reason but also, because of his love of poetry, the subject of some ridicule: “This is a Welsh castle — none of your Norman rubbish.” When the eternally outgoing Jonathan notes the village women’s disappointment that their men — sturdy, silent guys who are happiest downing a pint –won’t dance, he gets the bright idea of giving dance lessons to the blokes, telling them it’s the best way to pull girls. Staunton’s Hefina flutters around the London crowd like a mother hen. The town biddy, Maureen (Lisa Palfrey), who disapproves of all things L and G, is slowly, and not too easily, won over. And the youngest member of LGSM, a provincial kid named Joe (George MacKay), takes the necessary but painful step of leaving his own disapproving family behind.
A lot happens in Pride, and the movie has a sprawling, wayward quality — there’s no easily diagrammed dramatic arc here. But Warchus keeps the circus moving efficiently, and he shows a deft touch in some of the picture’s more delicate scenes, particularly one involving a tense reunion between a mother and son. Pride isn’t, it’s important to note, a movie that makes one group’s concerns seem more significant than another’s — it’s simply a story about people stepping in to help when it’s needed. And at its best, it’s simply filled with joy: When the LGSM group first meets Considine’s Dai, with his chin dimple, his sweet country manners, and his Sunday tweed jacket, they find him so adorable — and boy, is he! — that they spontaneously push him onstage at a gay cabaret, so he can thank the patrons himself. He’s nervous at first, and the crowd doesn’t know what to make of him, either. But he wins them over with a joke, laying the first brick in the foundation of a seemingly unlikely kinship. The world we live in now sometimes seems to be falling apart. It’s comforting to watch something being built for a change.