In movies as in life, an enlarged heart can be a precarious thing. The working-class comedy Pride wears its bloated red ticker right on its sleeve and presses so hard on the feel-good sweet spots that it almost leaves bruises. The facts of its story — which runneth over with improbable friendship and conquered fears and impossible odds — are these: In 1984 England, the mining and gay communities, both gripped by the iron fist of Margaret Thatcher, aligned themselves in a show of solidarity against the state. A group called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners raised buckets upon buckets of cash during the miners’ yearlong strike. In the end the strike was unsuccessful, but in 1985 at the annual Labor Party conference, a motion was passed committing the center-left organization to a platform that for the first time included gay rights — all because of a unanimous voting block from the National Union of Mineworkers.
The remarkable tale would not be served well via a Paul Greengrass-flavored entrée of deadly realism, and so Pride begins with a light touch. On the morning of London’s Gay Pride parade in 1984, real-life young activist Mark Ashton (American newcomer Ben Schnetzer, convincingly accented) brainstorms his idea to extend the hand of his marginalized group to another. Despite skepticism from his peers, who are wary of throwing support behind homophobic brutes, and a fair dose of confusion from the tiny Welsh village where the money is eventuality donated, a partnership is born. ”When you’ve found a friend that you never knew existed,” says the strike leader (the ever-genuine Paddy Considine), speaking into a feedback-squeaking microphone in a gay nightclub, ”Well, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
It?s a sentiment that only a hardened cynic could resist, but for all its good intentions, Pride rarely steps off that best-feeling-in-the-world pedestal. While the true story admittedly lends itself to uplifting movie scenes, screenwriter Stephen Beresford finds it necessary to fictionalize every beat of the plot into a series of exactly that — uplifting movie scenes. More than a dozen characters are riveted onto their telegraphed arcs and, even with the specter of AIDS lurking, all make safe landings. You just know the closeted kid from the suburbs (George MacKay) will undo the top button of his shirt and come out. The Wales native (Andrew Scott) who’s wracked with pain over familial estrangement will show up at his mother’s front door. Of course the flamboyant stud from the big city (Dominic West) will teach the stuffy straight men of the village how to boogie.
Yet celebrated theater director Mathew Warchus (Matilda, The Norman Conquests) unstiffens many of the script’s clichés by affecting a sparkling, musical tone — producers have stated their intentions to bring Pride to Broadway, à la fellow miners-strike movie Billy Elliot — and by taking full advantage of his ensemble of bright youngsters and old pros. Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy are especially poignant as two of the villagers — she more maternal and he more businesslike — who share a beautifully private moment while preparing sandwiches. The film’s biggest blunder is the inclusion of a contempt-stricken scold (Lisa Palfrey) who serves as wicked witch, even though her primary assertion about the gay group — ”What they’re really doing is pushing their own agenda” — is not demonstrably false. Pride offers clean and easy solutions to society’s troubles, and basks in rejoice as everyone’s problems are solved. But in its total inspirational sweep, it earns comparison to the movement it chronicles — as an organized, well-calculated piece of political theater. B