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October 2, 2014

Pride (2013)
Director: Matthew Warchus
Actors: Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Paddy Considine

Image result for pride film

Synopsis: A group of lesbian and gay activists in London set their sights on solidarity with the striking miners in 1984, and, in spite of mounting obstacles, develop a working association with a struggling Welsh mining community.

Review: Earlier this year, a very modest funding request I made to the BFI Film Fund to assist in the production of my debut screenplay Eivissagot summarily rejected at the first possible phase. My project (which had zero industrial clout) would have been a micro-budgeted, unique and purely cinematic piece – and I recall all this, because the film I’ve just seen, Pride, which was funded, promoted and driven through by the very same Film Fund, attests to all the reasons why my vision of cinema was never going to fit the BFI model.

Pride is a film which has been developed, packaged and sanitised to within an inch of its life, and though – as I’ll clarify later – on some level it is quite well made, it comes from a highly calibrated school of cinematic storytelling. It’s The Full MontyBrassed Off or Lasse Hallstrom ‘genre’ which is based around a feelgood, “fish out of water”, comedy of manners template, and which (Hallstrom’s films excepted) usually plays on some sort of stock image of the plucky, genial and community-minded Brit.

The actual story itself must have ticked all the boxes to the development team: the cherry-picking of a fertile and evocative moment in recent British history (the Miners’ Strike of 1984, already used as backdrop to Billy Elliott); it’s an extremely character-driven piece (there are at least a dozen characters with some form of comprehensible arc); there’s the opportunity for a bit of retro nostalgia in terms of style and music; and there’s the classic three-act narrative with nominal villains shoehorned in to drive the plot along its necessary conflicts. This is all well and good, and there’s definitely a story in there worth telling, but it’s all very literary and theatrical (unsurprisingly, helmsman Matthew Warchus is one of Britain’s top theatre directors). Pride never provides any reason beyond the commercial to justify why it necessitated telling as a piece of cinema over being shown as a Sunday evening TV serial, or, indeed, in the theatre.

Admittedly, the work does have some charm – it’s comprehensible, crowd-pleasing and features some quality ensemble acting (my own personal picks were Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy – playing against the tendency to turn their parochial Welshmen into caricatures, but really crafting subtly noble character turns instead). Some of the politics are well conveyed (the theme of solidarity), though I thought the film was marginally condescending toward gays, and lesbians in particular come out of the film very poorly: they are the butt of many jokes and their characters are the only ones with weak and marginalised subplots. (October 2014)

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