February 20, 2015

Film Review: "Pride" (2014)

by Róisín Lyder

Pride is a dramatized version of a series of events that took place in England and Wales during the 1983-5 miner’s strike, which was brutally crushed by Margaret Thatcher and her Tory government as part of their efforts to break the British trade union movement. The movie opens with the song ‘Solidarity Forever’ playing overtop of historical images of the strike and the song punctuates the rest of the film. Indeed solidarity is the real theme of Pride, a film that is a light-hearted meditation on the possibilities created when members of the working class overcome what may seem like insurmountable differences.

At the 1984 gay pride march in London we are introduced to Mark Ashton as he begins taking up a collection for the striking miners. It is at this march that the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) is formed. Ashton persuades the others to join by asking: “Who hates miners? Thatcher, the police, the public and the tabloids. Sound familiar?” The young queer people see the parallels; one suggests that the usual police harassers have been absent from the gay nightclubs lately because they have been too busy harassing the miners. The group sets about fundraising and eventually finds a mining town reluctantly willing to accept the cash. Following the usual practice of thanking solidarity groups, the LGSM are invited to the small Welsh town of Onllwyn where they meet an assorted cast of characters ranging from those who effortlessly lack prejudice, to the mildly uncomfortable, to the outright and staunchly homophobic. A series of predictable yet entertaining moments of bigotry and acceptance ensue.

Pride is not your average historical film; it is more glitter than grit. Reflection on the significance of LGSM to the history of the British left probably should not end here. Pride is silly, irreverent, tongue-in-cheek and will leave you laughing out loud the whole way through. In between the disco dancing and occasional outbreak of song, however, the film does manage to be thought provoking; raising a series of questions about what working class solidarity means.

The question that seems to linger most is what the members of LGSM receive in exchange for their unrelenting, unwavering commitment to the needs and the struggle of this mining town. How does solidarity emerge? One young gay man asks: “When did the miners ever come to our aid? Those bastards kicked the shit out of me every day.” However, the group is clearly touched by the kindness they receive from members of the mining community and for some of them the experience is an opportunity to work through their own difficult relationships with the small towns and families that raised them, but the real political exchange of solidarity only becomes clear at the end of the movie. It is here that Pride manages to pull off the happy ending the genre requires despite the obviously grim crushing of the strike movement. The film closes exactly one year after it starts at the 1985 gay pride march with dozens of buses filled with miners and their families descend upon London unannounced to march in support of the queer community.

The real Mark Ashton. A member of the YCL from 1982 and
General Secretary of the YCL 1985 till his death in 1987
As heartwarming – and truthful - as the ending is, Pride comes up short in explaining the motivations of LGSM. The film would have benefited from a more fully developed articulation of class politics. The inspiring commitment of LGSM to the strike cause comes off, at worst, as an odd and slightly masochistic hobby and, at best, as a result of a vague understanding of the shared experiences of groups targeted by the state. The real and more convincing explanation comes from the class-consciousness of the leadership of the LGSM. It is Mark Ashton who pushes forward with almost unfailing confidence in both the ability to the miners to overcome their prejudices and the absolute necessity of supporting the strike. Ashton was, in fact, a communist organizer and the leader of the YCL-Britain during the strike and before his untimely death of HIV AIDS at the age of 26. The only nod to Ashton’s political commitments happens when he is on stage at a nightclub in London someone in the audience yells ‘commie’. Clearly Ashton and other key members of LGSM had a deep commitment to revolutionary politics and the interests of the working class as a whole but the movie leaves this part of the story untouched.

Some have suggested that Ashton’s political background was left out in an attempt not to alienate audiences. If true, the irony is palpable. For a film clearly articulating the lessons that we should be proud of who we are when we participate in the struggle (“this is a gay and lesbian group and we are unapologetic about that”), and that we shouldn’t take heed of what our enemies say about us (“I don’t believe what they say about us miners, why should I listen to what they say about the gays?”), the choice to skirt Ashton’s revolutionary politics seems a shame.

This and other great articles will be in the next print issue of Rebel Youth! It's a special issue on the struggle for full equality to be released for International Women's Day 2015. Be sure to check it out!

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