Tony’s Talks: Thumbs Up For ‘PRIDE,’ The Movie

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For SFGN, I attended a screening of an informative and entertaining new movie, PRIDE, scheduled for national release on September 26.

It is inspired by an extraordinary true story.  In the summer of 1984, Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers is on strike, prompting a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists to raise money to support the strikers’ families. Despite the terrible hardships endured by the small Welsh mining towns, the Union initially rebuffed the offer of assistance.

The LGBT group was persistent, identifying a tiny mining village in Wales that took their phone call and sent a representative to London to receive the funds collected. He assumed the “L” in the group’s name stood for “London.” Friendships are formed and the group sets off to make their donation in person.  What follows is a well-told depiction of how some hearts and minds can travel the rocky and dangerous road to unity while others cannot, and how standing together makes for unexpected personal victories.

At the New York City press screening, a very discriminating audience applauded and laughed aloud at various moments, a sure indication that PRIDE will be well received. There may also have been some tears brushed away in the darkness during the “Where are they now” sequence at the very end of the film.

I asked the film’s director, Matthew Warcus, about the choices he made when deciding how to tell the story of two very different and proud communities in a way that would not offend them. He said, “When I read the script, I had been looking for a film to direct, and I was specifically looking for something that I could put my personal artistic stamp on. So I thought well this is a dilemma because this is the best script I’ve ever been offered but the direction has to be invisible. The characters must be kept front and center at all times. The story had to be delivered in a straightforward almost old-fashioned way. But to manage so many characters and stories at once ended up using all my skills.”

When asked what the intended audience for the film was, Warcus said, “Your question goes to the heart of things. Stephen Beresford, who wrote the script when he heard this story 20 years ago, spent 20 years trying to get people interested in his script as a mainstream film. He kept getting told that it wouldn’t work that way. ‘Why don’t you make a documentary? Why don’t you make a TV drama? Or a radio piece? Won’t work as a commercial film.’ But Stephen figured there was no point in trying to preach to the choir: the trade unionism community or the LGBT community. Why bring them just an issue-based story? The whole idea is disparate groups finding common ground. There is a moment in the film when the ‘gay’ lettered van pulls up into the front yard of a suburban home where a christening is going on. I think that is emblematic of and a metaphor for what the film does: it gets right into a marketplace of people who think these communities are not their own. Of course, even though that was my aim and Stephen’s aim, it would have been a disaster if I had gotten it wrong for the two communities and let them down, and irritated or patronized the LGBT and working class communities. It was a difficult piece of navigation.”

Did Warcus have trouble convincing well-known first-rate actors like Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Dominic West to be in the film? He says, “Quite the opposite. They read the script and said yes immediately, even though many of them are not at the center of the movie.”

When asked how the movie was received when shown to the folks who lived in those Welsh mining towns, Warcus said, “When we first screened it to them, we were so terrified for the reasons I mentioned. It was extremely moving. They stood up and cheered. Since then, it’s played in Wales primarily for an audience of trade unions and gotten the same enormous reaction. Same in London at some LGBT screenings. Now, I want the mainstream audience to know that this film is not what they’d expect and that it is enormously refreshing.”

PRIDE is exactly the sort of movie that could go from film to stage and then re-bloom as a musical in both formats. Think of Billy Elliott or Priscilla Queen Of The Desert. When I asked Warcus if there are plans for that, he said, “Yes, but one would need to make sure that by musicalizing it, we didn’t lose the authenticity and groundedness of it. It would have to be done without trivializing the characters.”

Watch the trailer: http://youtu.be/LoDhhLgobt4


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