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Pride and prejudice

JANUARY 24 — Despite being straight as an arrow, I’ve never shied away from exploring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema even during my teenage or young adult years.

That’s probably due to my relentless hunger for cinema, but also probably due to my belief that it takes something extra special to make people get into a film and empathise with characters that don’t necessarily do things that we are into or believe in.

And if you can feel the love in a LGBT movie, then to me that movie has done real good.

Unlike the earlier years of LGBT cinema, which were understandably more about understanding and acceptance, recent LGBT films have been about things that are a bit more “general” and “universal” like first love (as in the Brazilian film The Way He Looks, which is probably the perfect “first gay film” for straight people out there) and Before Sunrise-like romance (the truly superb British film Weekend).

This is probably because, in the industrialised world at least, there has been quite a substantial achievement in the pursuit of LGBT rights such as equal access to marriage and military service.

In some sense, the battle has been won, though there are undoubtedly many more battles to come. Having grown up admiring the unity and ethos of punk rock, it’s really something special to encounter a LGBT film that is about, of all things, worker solidarity and activism.

Even more special is the fact that it’s based on a true story, about an alliance between a London fundraising group called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) and the mining village of Onllwyn in the Dulais Valley in Wales, which was on strike, as was all the mines in the United Kingdom in 1984. And how amazing is it that a gay film has not decided to call itself Pride before this, even though it’s such a key word in the LGBT rights movement.

There’s a tradition of big-hearted and feel-good British comedies in which the working class cast aside their differences and work together to challenge some sort of social barrier like in The Full Monty, Brassed Off and East Is East. Pride quite clearly belongs to this proud British tradition, even down to the film’s cheery crowd pleasing tone and endless stream of hilarious banter and cheeky one-liners.

A pop film with a not-so-pop message, Pride also contains one of the most touching and rousing call-to-arms lines that I’ve ever heard in a mainstream film, in which the village representative, making a speech in a rowdy gay bar to thank LGSM for their support and donation, says that, “When you’re in a battle, against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, that’s the best feeling in the world.” It’s the film’s key philosophy, and credit must go to screenwriter Stephen Beresford and director Matthew Warchus for presenting their thesis in such a humble and non-preachy way.

In fact, instead of using speeches or interior monologues to hammer their points home, the film-makers have used an even more powerful and cinematic tool to do so — outrage. Cleverly showing parallels between the belittlement received by both parties, both gays and miners, from the powers that be in their own different struggles, the viewer is successfully provoked into outrage and empathy for the plight of both sets of protagonists.

Yet this is nowhere near an angry film about social activism. In coating the film and presenting it in the form a big-hearted and crowd pleasing mainstream comedy, the film-makers have made sure that their message and thesis is being received loud and clear, in the most enjoyable of manner.

A virtual tour-de-force of British acting with the likes of Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine lending their considerable acting chops, this is as close to perfect a British mainstream comedy that I’ve seen in a very, very long while.

The miners of course lost their one-year battle against Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1984-1985 strike, but by the end of the film, when the miners joined the LGSM gang in the 1985 Gay Pride march in London (all of which truly happened) as a show of solidarity for their support of the miners during the 1984-1985 strike, the film’s knockout punch has been delivered.

It’s as timely and universal a message as there can be, and it can be taken to heart anywhere in the world, that the oppressed are better off united in their battle against systems of oppression and discrimination rather than being divided.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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