Matthew Warchus’s Pride (2014) is a comedy with serious undertones. Set in London and Wales, the film loosely hearkens back to a real moment of solidarity between London gays and lesbians and the striking Welsh mine-workers in the mid-1980s. The gays get to be flamboyant, the lesbians are serious and comparatively dogmatic, and the Welsh are both unbelievably accepting and wearyingly spiteful toward their homosexual saviors. The one clip of Maggie Thatcher talking on a television news program viscerally raises the specter of her hideous, hateful soul and suggests (perhaps) that spectacular political alliances occur only in the face of horrendous political leadership.
The alliance is, truly, spectacular. It is imagistic and sparkly more than substantial, held together by a repeated motif (up to and including the film’s final image) of two hands clasping in a basic gesture of solidarity. It is an affectively compelling image even as it remains short on detail or sustenance. The comedy is fun but it’s hard for the fun to stay in focus when it’s so reliant on reactionary nostalgia (union songs and ardent support for righteous causes) and full blown fantasy (the Welsh will accept gays and lesbians after one evening of dancing disco together? really?).
The gays and one lesbian who begin LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) try to convince their LGBQ friends gathered at a queer bookstore to support the striking miners. They argue directly out of a shared patterning of structural oppression: ‘The cops that used to follow us and arrest us and beat us up,’ Mark (Ben Schnetzer) says, ‘are over there now, bullying the miners. We should help them because we know what it’s like to be bullied that way’ (I am paraphrasing from memory). Retorts from the crowd–‘When have the miners ever supported us?’; ‘I know those guys: they beat me up every day, to and from school’–yield absolutely no effect on LGSM enthusiasm. It is a fight that should be made, they assume, because they swim with the miners in the same sea of oppression, regardless of the stark differences between the two sets of contexts, bodies, and vulnerabilities. They do not assert that all police brutality and social rejection are the same so much as that the obvious differences simply don’t matter in light of the sheer (repeated, familiar, awful) facts of brutality and rejection. It’s a hard stance to sustain, however, in light of the film’s portrayal of a number of ways that those differences do indeed materially shove and warp the interactions between the two groups.
The film floats to an ambiguous end. The LGSM’ers head to the next year’s London Gay Pride march and are told to discard political activism for the simple good feelings of community bonding, even though political activism generates the only substantial form of good community feelings shown in the film. They are told to go to the “back” of the parade with the other “fringe groups” who insist on political messaging. The friends nearly give in to despair, but sadness is swept away in a moment of high reactionary nostalgia, when the Welsh miners come streaming in by the bus load to “show solidarity” with Gay Pride. Hugs and smiles all round.
But the larger ambiguity, of course, is the low rumble of AIDS, present from the middle of the film onwards like a horror film’s subsonic pulse. What place will be afforded this kind of large-scale cross-group solidarity when AIDS descends in full force? How substantial will be the miners’s reciprocity in the face of medical brutality, and not police brutality? That one LGSM member carries HIV and another will die imminently from AIDS–at the age of 26–are facts kept to jolly, pithy sentences strewn over their laughing faces at the Gay Pride march. And that the film does not quite end at that march, but telescopes massive, organized social solidarities down to one recently-out gay man and LGSM’s founding lesbian might also be seen to telescope the neoliberal decade of consumerism and self-entrepreneuralism down to two individuals–friends but never lovers–alone together against the world’s general indifference. Poignant, but hardly funny.