Pride: a funny, moving film that deserves a much bigger audience

Pride (2014)
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2014’s Pride remains one of the finest British films of the last decade, and yet it remains for many an undiscovered gem – here’s why it deserves a lot more love.

At heart, it’s a really simple, straightforward moment. On one half of the table sits Imelda Staunton, making a sizeable tub of margarine spread as far as possible. She diligently spreads it on the bread. There’s no money for some nice filling (or any filling, come to that) so she then passes the slices over to Bill Nighy.

It’s his job then to cut them in half. It’s shot from the other side of the table, the camera fixed. A few spare lines of dialogue pass between these two superb actors. The whole sequence brings me to tears every single time. It’s one of my favourite movie scenes of the last decade.

I don’t know anyone who’s seen Pride who hasn’t had some kind of reaction to it. It’s a rare mix of being incredibly funny, incredibly moving and incredibly poignant – all whilst being hugely accessible. It captures what a bunch of British films were able to do in the 1990s – Brassed Off and The Full Monty I’m looking at in particular – in that they coat difficult conversations and politics of steel with characters you really care for and lashings of humour.

The difference, though, is that Pride never got the same level of success of some of those films. In fact, when it came to promote the film in the US, its advertising diluted a chunk of the story it was trying to tell.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

Back in my previous job, I got to see the film Pride a couple of months before release (a rare treat for me). I didn’t know anything about the film, had had a long day, and considered for a minute giving the screening a miss. But I’d given my word, and duly slipped into the corner of a small screening room.

I was blown away. Completely blown away. Not only was it one of the most downright entertaining films I’d seen all that year (it was 2014 the film came out), but it had utterly got to me. The poor person who rang me the following day asking for my view on the screening was still having to hold the phone 20 minutes later as I kept going on about it.

I wasn’t very good at shutting my mouth about it from that point onwards, and I believed then – and believe even more now – that it’s a very, very special film.

What continues to frustrate me is that even though it’s found a solid audience, it remains a movie that so, so many people are yet to discover. Thing is, without a blockbuster budget, a huge marketing campaign or regular catalogue reissues to fight its corner, it now relies on word of mouth to keep its drum being banged. I’ve heard people describe it as an art house movie, or a small film, or it’s been pigeonholed. Yet for me, it’s a huge Saturday night film.

Consider this article, then, a bit of added drum banging on my part.

Because few films in the last decade, I’d argue, mix heart, emotion, incredibly funny moments and drama as well as this one. It’s a blockbuster night out at the movies, it’s just you’ll have to seek it out in your home now.

The setup sounds, well, like it could have gone a different way. Screenwriter Stephen Beresford happened upon the true life story of a support group called Lesbians & Gays Support The Miners (LGSM). It was a small London-based coming together of people, who collected money for the-then striking miners in the 1980s, in a show of solidarity and support. He dug further, and started putting his screenplay together.

The backdrop to this this act of solidarity – as the film shows – widespread homophobia and a television advert offering stark warnings about a new epidemic (at the time) known as AIDS. That advert, at one point, chillingly plays in the movie. Homophobia and unease is part of the fabric of the final movie. The film stares it in the eyes, and doesn’t blink.

Beresford thus fashioned two unlikely groups coming together into a screenplay, and the film was on its path to coming together. Its production story is one we covered in a previous Film Stories podcast, that you can hear here.

But this article isn’t about how the film got made. It’s about what it continues to deserve to be sought out, celebrated, watched and shouted about. And hopefully, getting more people to watch it.

There are many, many facets of the film that impress even more each time I see it, and that’s a lot of times now. Not least just how much story it gets into its two-hour running time. That there are key beats and moments of the story of course (and a searing soundtrack that tells the story), but room too for so many small moments, and the space for them to breathe.

Director Matthew Warchus, who’s primarily worked in theatre (he directed, for instance, the acclaimed stage musical of Matilda, and he’s set to bring that to the big screen once we’re all properly let out) knew from the off he was working on a tight budget. A hostage to tight limits. He thus spent his funds on the best visual effect of all: human beings.

By choosing to stick with a large cast – usually the first thing to go when the budgeting process begins – he knew he was sacrificing a greater number of set-ups for having more humans in the frame, and at the heart of the story. It’s why you have so many held shots of multiple characters at once in the movie. A case of stretching resources mixed with refusing to compromise on slimming down the size of the call sheet.

What a cast, too.

Going spoiler light, I’m still going to put it out there that I’ve never seen anyone wave a sex toy and roar with laughter at a porn magazine in the manner of Imelda Staunton in the movie. Staunton, of course, is just wonderful, switching between steel and humour for the character of Hefina.

Yet so many characters are afforded light and shade. Nighy’s Cliff, for instance, doesn’t get much screen time, yet his character is never shortchanged as a consequence. He plays him quietly, a little nervously, and whilst he can’t cut a sandwich to save his life, he breaks my heart. The range of Bill Nighy is really something, and he doesn’t get enough credit for it.

Paddy Considine, meanwhile, gets the moment in the film early on which carries both levity and genuine surprise. I’m always struck by how quietly subversive and unexpected a moment it is for so early in the film. It’s perfectly played, of course, but also superbly written. It’s telling that Warchus and Beresford collaborated so closely on the film, to the point where the director insisted the writer was on set next to him. The collaboration worked.

The rich cast sees Andrew Scott put across a character oftentimes as much with a look as words. It sees Dominic West go from grumpiness to a huge centrepiece sequence in the movie. And Monica Dolan, in what could have been a down the line intolerant mother role squeezes humanity out of it too.

The younger members of the ensemble are a revelation, too. George MacKay has clearly gone on to lots of high profile, interesting work, but Pride remains one of his breakthrough roles, and one of his best. It’s surprising that Ben Schnetzer, in the role of Mark, hasn’t too attracted more attention. He’s absolutely magnetic here.

Had the film enjoyed more initial success, I can’t help thinking it would and should have been his starmaking role. I feel the same too for Jess Gunning’s turn as Sian. Like so many characters in the film, I’d have happily sat through the whole thing again just through her eyes.

Even going through those names, I’m short-changing the terrific Faye Marsay, Joe Gilgun, Freddie Fox and more. There’s not a performance in the film that doesn’t hit the mark.

And yet, six years later, the film – in spite of earning a BAFTA for Stephen Beresford as Best Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer – feels like a well kept secret.

In fact, it arguably got the most publicity it ever received when the American DVD release of the film omitted the words “gay and lesbian” from the film’s description. Furthermore, a similarly-themed banner was edited from the back cover’s imagery. It caused a minor stink, and then everything went back to normal.

Well, part from the film. For Pride is special. Really, really special, and time only improves it. It’s part of that large circle of films that really needs a push to get it noticed, especially now, long after its small marketing budget has been spent. And I keep returning to the same point: for all its ingredients, this should be a huge Saturday night crowdpleaser, talked about alongside the Billy Elliots, the Full Montys and the Brassed Offs. 

Perhaps the Venn diagram of the miner’s strike, a gay and lesbian support group and the scene-stealing Menna Trussler and her cardigan weren’t the ingredients for an easy sell. And maybe the era has passed where a British film can build an audience in cinemas slowly but surely over a number of weeks.

Pride, though, still deserves better. If you’ve never had the pleasure, do please seek it out and give it a try. And if you have? Let’s keep spreading the word about it…

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