Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pride (in the name of mediocrity)

During 1984 and 1985, the LGBT community – marginalised, ill-represented by the media, and denied their basic human rights by the Thatcher regime – demonstrated a remarkable socio-political stance and display of solidarity with the striking miners. They marched, they raised funds, and they battled a two-pronged assault by middle England: against homophobia, and against the anti-strike, anti-union fervour drummed up by the government and perpetuated by a media in the government’s pocket.

 Plus ça motherfucking change, huh?

Early in Matthew Warchus’s film, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) points up the parallels as he rallies a group of militant protestors who centre around a gay and lesbian bookshop in London: both groups are hated by the Tory party, the police and a brainwashed society who belief what a biased media tell them. “The only problem we’ve got that they don’t is Mary Whitehouse,” he concludes. It’s a decent line and it got a good laugh at the screening I attended this afternoon. And that’s one of the problems. Stephen Beresford’s script is full of moments like this. Yeah, he makes a point. But in a throwaway manner. Too much of ‘Pride’ is reductive: a jokey line here, a cutesy moment there, a snippet of archive footage to remind us that all of this really happened.

IMDb bills ‘Pride’ as “comedy / drama / history”. The drama takes a back seat to the fuzzy feelgood moments and the zippy lines. History doesn’t seem to feature at all. ‘Pride’ reminded me a lot of ‘Made in Dagenham’: both are based on true stories, both are set in a very specific period of the recent past, and neither convinced, aesthetically, as period pieces. Whereas, say, ‘The Damned United’ utilizes cinematography and production design that conjures a convincing and evocation recreation of the 70s, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and ‘Pride’ just look like a bunch of people wearing more or less the fashions of the day filmed in bland BBC ‘Play for Today’ style against locations that haven’t even been set-dressed.

The bits of archive material that ‘Pride’ drops in – most notably the shocking image of Lesley Boulton in the split-second before she was clubbed by a mounted police officer at Orgreave – only serve to point up what the film is missing. There is no real sense of oppression by government; or of divided communities; or of hunger, deprivation and desperation; or of police brutality; or of … well … striking. In a film that clocks in at damn near two hours, there’s but one scene of picketing and it’s over in seconds.

The importance of the story told by ‘Pride’ is impossible to overestimate. Even after the strike ended, a massive contingent of Welsh miners arrived at the 1985 gay pride event, NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) banners aloft, and led the march in a show of solidarity. Subsequently, the Labour party moved to enshrined LGBT rights in its constitution, the motion powered through by block vote from the NUM. Additionally, women who had previously experienced little outside of their traditional roles as wives and mothers suddenly found themselves organising, fundraising, protesting, forming support groups, speaking to the media, addressing rallies, finding their voices and speaking out against Thatcher’s government. It’s a tragedy that Thatcher essentially betrayed her gender politically, but the immediate and damning response by a generation of working class women spoke for itself.

The miners’ strike remains a reactionary, searing and viscerally dramatic moment in British social, economic and politic history. And yet the great British movie on the strike still hasn’t been made. American cinema has given us the hammerblow of John Sayles’s ‘Matewan’; French cinema has given us both Yves Allégret and Claude Berri’s adaptations of Zola’s ‘Germinal’. Thirty years down the line, British cinema is still treating the miners’ strike as some sort of colourful backdrop to feelgood stories of self-expression, be it a brass band contest in ‘Brassed Off’ or no-son-of-mine-sensitive-lad-who-just-wants-to-dance in ‘Billy Elliott’. It’s as if no-one has had the balls to tell the real, gritty, gruelling story.

Fuck’s sake, British cinema, grow a pair, take a side, step up. Where the biopic of Arthur Scargill (imagine Andrew Scott, wasted in a nothing role in ‘Pride’, juggling with cinematic dynamite in the lead role)? Where the conspiracy thriller movie about the government’s machinations against the NUM, drawn from Seamus Milne’s ‘The Enemy Within’ (the creative team behind ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ would ace this)? Where the underdog drama of the Nottinghamshire striking miners or the “dirty thiry” in Leicestershire holding the line against overwhelming numbers of scabs and media muck-racking (a Meadows-Consodine re-teaming waiting to happen)? Where the fearless, visceral, fuelled by white-hot righteous anger account of the events at Orgreave (Ben Wheatley: your cue, sir)?

Fuck’s sake, we have the talent, we have the passion, we have truth on our side. Please, British cinema, please: the hour is still to come.

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