The most surprising thing about the miner’s strike is how many films it has inspired, considering it’s not exactly the most cinematic of news stories. It’s also strange that the films it has inspired, the best of the bunch being Brassed Off, have taken such a broadly socialist stance and been so successful, to which Pride is no different. Yet despite having political views that are in sync with my own, I wasn’t as impressed as many others were; it’s a film that tries its hardest to win over viewers on the other side of the political spectrum, despite ending with on-screen text that describes a triumph for the Labour party and the fact the Tory government are the biggest villains in the movie. It wants to be a shameless crowd pleaser, yet will undoubtedly alienate Conservatives. It spent so much time pandering to the broadest audience possible, it ended up disenfranchising me – and I’m the target audience.
After the London gay pride parade of 1984, socialist campaigner Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer – who will next be seen in The Riot Club, so British cinema audiences will see him as a socialist and a capitalist in the space of one week) wants to raise money for the striking miners, as they are being hounded by the media, as are the LGBT community. Along with some friends (including Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Joe Gilgunn, Faye Marsay and George Mackay) he sets up the “Lesbians and Gays support the miners” relief fund. Only one small Welsh village is prepared to accept the money- and its spokesperson Dai (Paddy Considine) only accepts it before realizing its come from a bunch o’ gays. He invites them back to his village as thanks, where they rub shoulders with the likes of Bill Nighy (who doesn’t so much act as just do his mannerisms) and Imelda Staunton, who accept them with open arms even if the rest of the town don’t.
The film isn’t bad by any means; the cast are unanimously solid and manage to do their best at selling a screenplay that is pretty badly written (for all the talk of this being one of the funniest movies of the year, nobody at my screening laughed once). It’s just a shame that the majority of the cast are short changed, given barely fleshed out characters that don’t fully fit into the narrative. The best example of this would be George MacKay’s character Joe; he is predominantly a background character until the last 40 minutes of the film, with very little information revealed about him even as we repeatedly cut back to his home life. The last 40 minutes reveal he was essentially the central protagonist of the entire film – yet it had done such a bad job of introducing the character, and he’d been irrelevant to the main story for so long, all of the emotional beats that his character arc generates in the final act don’t pack the punch that they are supposed to.
To add insult to injury, this was a character just invented for the film and not involved in the real life story; surely instead of writing this part they could have just focused on one of the existing characters? After all, it doesn’t really add anything except a traditional “coming out” narrative that all mainstream movies about gay people apparently need, yet would be perfectly fine without. The film repeatedly references Mark Ashton’s future in a way that tries to be subtle, yet is so clumsily written comes across as tasteless foreshadowing. It’s not relevant to this story, but if the invented character was removed more time could have been spent on what appears to be the more emotionally affecting narrative.
Another problem with playing to the broadest audience possible is the reliance on stereotypes to make the characters seem familiar to the audience, instead of making them seem realistic. The most damning example is the entire Welsh village getting cured of their homophobia by watching Dominic West dance to a flamboyant disco song (yes, this actually happens), with the only people who remain homophobic being the ones not present. It reminded me of the scene in American History X where Edward Norton is cured of racism by listening to a black guy talk about “pussy” – which is apparently proof that the major cure for racism is misogyny. Forget the fact that the gay and lesbian characters were raising money and helping the village. The village was only comfortable with them when they were conforming to stereotypes they were familiar with, as are the cinema audience, with this scene designed as the big crowd pleasing moment. Soon after, we see George return home and bin all his vinyl albums in favour of the Human League; because apparently it’s written in the contract for being gay that you must exclusively listen to synth music or your gay licence will be revoked.
The culture clash comedy often felt like a first draft of a screenplay rather than a finished product, with every joke sounding at least two or three re-writes away from being completed. A recurring joke was the old women of the village having an obsession with lesbians being vegetarian. I didn’t realise this was a stereotype, meaning the joke fell flat no matter how many times it was repeated, yet it feels like the sort of joke included in order to play it safe to a broad audience. Surely it would be funnier if the old women were quizzing the lesbians about Blue is the Warmest Colour style filth, or would descriptions of scissoring be too off-putting to mainstream audiences? I would argue it’s a film that cares more about straight audiences than gay ones, considering that it bends over backwards to avoid talking about sexuality in anything more than stereotypes or broad strokes – possibly the most damning criticism of a film called Pride.
I should point out that I had none of these feelings when I was watching the film itself- the film is such a shameless crowd pleaser to the extent that you walk out feeling you’ve watched a better film than you have. In retrospect it becomes apparent it is part of one of my least favourite invented genres; the film about gay people designed solely for straight people to make them feel good about themselves for being accepting of gay people. It’s not as cynical as Dallas Buyers Club, which turned a real life bisexual character into a homophobe to tap into the middle-American audience’s presumed prejudices, but it’s release at the start of awards season doesn’t help me see this as anything other than shameless awards bait. It’s well acted and its heart is in the right place: but that isn’t enough. Brassed Off managed to be a crowd pleaser despite playing solely to its target audience; if this film was focused on entertaining left-leaning and gay audiences it would be a success. Don’t the filmmakers know that trying to please everybody means that you are very likely to please nobody?