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10 September 2014

"What's the Welsh for Lesbian?"

I got the chance to attend a preview screening of Matthew Warchus's new film Pride on Sunday, and it was great: moving, thoughtful and funny. If you can imagine a hybrid of Brassed Off and Gus Van Sant's Milk, Pride would probably be it. Armed with a superb cast, Warchus tells is the uplifting story of a fascinating part of 1980s British history about which I knew very little.

It is 1984 and a group of London-based gay and lesbian activists, led by Mark (Ben Schnetzer), want to do more to help other oppressed groups: specifically, the striking miners. They manage to raise a fair bit of cash, but the miners' union isn't interested in taking their 'gay' money, prompting them to pick a Welsh village almost at random and call up the local miners' lodge pledging their support. Gethin (Andrew 'Moriarty' Scott), in whose bookshop the Lesbian & Gays Support Miners (LGSM) group usually convenes, is from Wales (hence the choice of the village) but estranged from his family, who never forgave him for coming out.

Following up on a garbled phone message left at the Welsh village, Dai (Paddy Considine), who runs the local union lodge, shows up in London to meet the LGSM group. He is surprised at first to find that the L in the group's name doesn't stand for London but he is game, and even plucks up the courage to interrupt the entertainment at a big gay club to thank its patrons for their support of the Welsh miners.

The LGSM gang then travel up to the village to try to help out. Unsurprisingly, as the two 'tribes' emeet, there is quite the culture clash ("How can that be a village — it doesn't have any vowels," one of them asks as they enter Onllwyn). Many of the villagers, including Maureen (Lisa Palfrey) and some of the lads, aren't happy about the arrival of their guests, but others are more open-minded, most notably Hefina (Imelda Staunton), Cliff (Bill Nighy) and Sian (Jessica Gunning). And once the lads have seen the effect of Jonathan (Dominic West)'s dance moves on the ladies, they form a line to take dance lessons from the posh and most flamboyant member of LGSM.

There are a lot of characters in Pride and a lot of ground covered. Another member of the group, Joe (George McKay), is barely out of the closet and still lives with his parents in suburbia. He is recruited into LGSM by accident, but his character's story arc becomes quite central to the plot. Meanwhile, the threat and fear of AIDS dominates some of the others' thoughts. Some characters are based on real people: Jonathan, for example, is based on Jonathan Blake, one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed as HIV-positive. Sian, meanwhile, is Sian James, who goes on to be an MP for Swansea.

Although Pride is a serious film, it is also funny. A lot of the humour stems from the "goodness me" reactions of the Welsh villagers to their new friends, and suffice to say, everyone learns a lot from one another. You probably won't be able to erase from your mind the image of Staunton waving around a pink dildo. The film could easily fall into the trap of being too earnest, but it doesn't, and this is primarily down to the great performances. West, who looks like he's borrowed a wig from George Michael in his Wham! days, is brilliant and a far cry from the more serious roles I've seen him play. Staunton steals a lot of scenes too as the straight-talking, take-no-prisoners bossyboots who soon becomes the biggest defender of the LGSM. And of course Considine, Nighy and Scott are all good. There are so many strong performances in this ensemble cast, it's a little tricky to keep track.

Suffice to say that Pride is a fun, engaging film that will make you feel good, while also learning something.

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