Pride: "a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc."
Union: "the state of being united."
I was born in the same cold December that tens of thousands of coal mining families across the UK were living in poverty with their gas cut off and cupboards empty because of the 1984 UK miner's strike. For as long as I can remember I've been aware of the strike and it's economic and political consequences, despite not coming from a mining family, or living in a pit community. I'd only been gurgling for a mere few months before the strike ended in March 1985 after one year, but learning about life as a young child, you pick on all sorts of things instinctively, and I picked up on the fact that a) I was working class and b) that was an honour.
My grandad, who drove a forklift truck for a British manufacturing company, would often - and still does - drop into conversation, whenever he can, just how much of a "bastard" (said with sharp Brummie bite) Margaret Thatcher was, and how awful it was for the mining communities of 1984 and beyond. So I've always been fascinated with unions and empathetic to the events of 84. I'm a member of the NUJ - National Union of Journalists - who, like the National Union of Mineworkers, is not what it once was in terms of numbers, but it is still a vital organisation for protecting thousands of workers in an increasingly insecure industry. I've also been on strikes, stood on picket lines and protested through central London for various causes throughout the years.
There's something about the connection that comes from the chaos of uprising that really makes you feel like you're living. And it sets people apart - those who cower, those who don't care, and those who stick their neck out for the greater good. In 2014, an incredible 30 years since the strike (and since I was born - yelp!) we're all searching for more human connection. The digital age, the ever-continuing rise of Capitalism and the ideology of Individualism have left us all reeling in fear, despondence - and counselling. We're online, but out of reach. The term Social Media has kept us believing that we have a better connection than ever before (go on, buy the products, download the App) but while we're having fun and being distracted, something is lost in the exercise of tapping into an inanimate object to talk to a breathing, beating human being. Most of the young folk I come across as a journalist and in my personal life are looking for meaning, and not just because they've read about it on Facebook. Several people I know - including myself - regularly volunteer at various different community projects across London, one has turned their back on a high-powered TV job to run a homeless shelter, another has ditched a top job as a theatre producer to spend 6 months in Sierra Leone, where she is now supporting doctors during the Ebola crisis, and so on. We all want connection, we want to feel united, we all want more than Margaret Fucking Thatcher.
The reason for this post is that last night I went to see Matthew Warchus' new film Pride, which tells a lesser-known real-life story of the strike in 84. The film begins with the miners already on strike, while at the same time, a Gay Pride march is taking place in central London. Wanting to ramp up the protest for Gay and Lesbian rights, leading figure Mark Ashton (played by Ben Schnetzer) realises that both groups have been targeted by Thatcher, the tabloid press and the police, so he launches Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) and starts collecting buckets of cash to deliver to a mining town in south Wales -picked at random- in order to show solidarity.
The film works through the initial skepticism and reluctance of both the miners in the Dulais Valley mining community in south Wales to accept help from LGSM, and of the lesbian and gay community to support a the miners, who as one young man points out "used to beat me up every day on my way to school." But the LGSM will not be moved, even taking a derogatory headline in The Sun and using it as the name of a fundraiser ('Pits and Perverts') and thus bringing massive attention to the miners cause.
There are other stories weaved into Pride very delicately - young Joe (George MacKay) is terrified of coming out to his conservative parents, Gethin (Andrew Scott) hasn't spoken to his Welsh mother for 16 years and the dark shadow of the AIDs virus creeps in, with Mark bumping into an old flame who has contracted HIV. The serious issues underpin and bring the film back to the truth of the story every time it verges on the Mamma Mia! or Love, Actually style of romp com with comedy moments from the ensemble cast containing populist actors Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton among others. I initially jarred with the jolly, swooping camera work and West End musical-style soundtrack, trying to match the tone to the tale, but as the film went on I realised that having a mainstream movie about Gay and Lesbian rights AND Socialism screened in cinemas across the globe is an achievement in itself. And if some of the more saccharine scenes (usually involving songs) have to be in there in order to reach the Richard Curtis-addled public then so be it. Indeed, Warchus, who is about to be passed Kevin Spacey's baton as Artistic Director of the Old Vic, said that the film's producers had told him "not to make it too political."
Pride is a film so lively and spirited that if it wasn't a true story would be deemed OTT and improbable. Yet it WAS a true story, (although I'm not entirely sure Dominic West's hip-thrusting dance routine in the Dulais social club was an actual event or a two-minute distortion in my cerebrum). These two very different communities came together to support one another and while the miners were defeated, the lasting impact of the connection goes on and on. For a drama that throws stylistic convention onto an unconventional story to deliver its message, it's the facts that speak the loudest. Sian James, one of the women in the Dulais mining community who supported LGSM went on to become a Labour MP for Swansea East and still holds the post today. And following the strike, The National Union of Mineworkers were the only group who voted unanimously to pass a motion committing the Labour Party to LGBT equality- the first time such a motion had ever gotten enough support to become an official manifesto pledge. After the screening, held in a swanky cinema at London's Barbican centre, a world away from a Welsh pit mine, various friends of Mark Ashton stood up to thank Warchus for portraying the events in such a truthful way, some of them weeping, they were so proud.