Welcome to movie night, where my beautiful fiancée and I explore the world of LGBT cinema and bring it back to you. This week, we head to 1984 London to engage in a little political solidarity…
Pride is set during the 1984 UK Miner’s strike, and focuses on Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, an activist group that did what it said on the tin. The movie itself is an interesting series of contradictions: working with an ensemble cast and a lot more technical polish than we’re used to seeing in gay movies we haven’t heard of, it is both more and less political than it could be. The movie is as solidly pro-union as anyone since my rowdy sixth grade social studies teacher, with all of the emotional swells accompanied by folk music, but it doesn’t want to get too far into the details or the politics of the plot. Tonally, it’s a lot more like Remember the Titans than The Imitation Game.
We picked this movie hoping that it would be fun, and because we were excited about the activism and labor aspects of it. Most of the Real Life Gay People we know are also capable of having political opinions more complex than “it should be okay to be gay”, but it’s hard to find that in fiction. The cast is also really good, made up of people (like Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy) who play the sort of characters who are a joy to watch and never much discussed.
Tori’s feelings: In a lot of ways, I felt like this movie was a rare example of what we ask for so often and never get: a Gay Movie that isn’t About Being Gay. It was generally funny and heartwarming and inspiring and it felt a lot like the kinds of fun-for-the-whole-family movies I grew up watching. With very few exceptions, there wasn’t much mature content that my mother wouldn’t have been able to wave off with an “Oh, I don’t know what the big pink silicone thing she was holding was, I wasn’t looking, shh, watch the movie.”
But unfortunately, the scenes where they felt like they had to include enough Major Gay Issues – particularly AIDS – to stay topical were some of the weakest. There’s an awkward moment where a character sees his ex and we are meant to realize that they are both HIV+. But it’s so off-key from the rest of the movie and so vague that it’s hard to tell if the end message is supposed to be “These people were in a relationship and now they are both going to die young” or “Wow, this guy spent way too long living in a Frankie Goes To Hollywood video and now his bizarre debauchery is catching up to him.” It wouldn’t have worked to cut AIDS out of the movie, but neither was it successful, in my opinion, to make it a hushed dark blue light throbbing beat secret followed by dramatic confessions. There’s a dearth of good fiction about the AIDS crisis, and unfortunately this was not it. But I’m not sure it needed to be – it was a satisfying story that was ultimately about something else.
B’s feelings: B liked this movie a lot, and was even willing to forgive it for not using its lesbians as much as it could have. Pride has been criticized for treating the lesbian splinter faction within Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners as more comedic relief than an issue borne of serious concerns, and there were definitely moments where we were supposed to laugh at the radical lesbians and instead looked awkwardly at each other. But we also just had fun with this one more than we had in a while.
She also raised the point that Pride felt more like it was assuming an LGBT point of view than many similar movies do. (Kinky Boots and RENT come to my mind immediately; she was thinking of 2015’s Stonewall.) While there is a character who plays the role of a viewer stand-in – he’s young, blond, a little unsure of himself, upper middle-class and, like the rest of the main cast, white – he is gay and in the process of coming out to himself, rather than straight and sightseeing. The narrative drama and humor around the LGBT and miner town cast trying to come together is fairly balanced between the two groups. They are each given narrative time and space to feel uncomfortable, and it was really wonderful how little it felt like the joke was that the more flamboyant characters were so weird. The time the point of view felt most jarring for us was, again, when AIDS came into the narrative. It was much like the moment when someone walks in two hours late to a dinner party and wants to hear all the stories they missed. We wanted more space to get into the characters’ experiences and feelings, and the movie itself was so caught up in doing AIDS History 101 that we didn’t really get to. But we both acknowledge that this is probably about audience – we’re both up on our history, and it’s understandable that this was the moment when the moviemakers felt like they had to do more hand-holding.
Bechdel pass: Even if we wished the lesbians had gotten more plot-heavy screen time, the plot was so focused on the mining strike that there were plenty of opportunities for women, both within the mining town and the lesbians, to talk to each other about all sorts of things.
Body count: Well, some of the gay men in the movie survived, and considering the setting (1980s London; based on a true story) this was fairly kind of them.
Was it a phase? Nope!
Most redeeming feature: Definitely the lesbians sitting in the back of the van singing “Every woman is a lesbian at heart.” Alternately, all of feelings of Fellowship and Coming Together.
Recommended for: The sort of friends and family night where you’d normally be forced to watch Rudy again; torturing your brother-in-law who thinks Margaret Thatcher was a “strong woman.”