Sunday, April 05, 2015

"Pride" a brilliant paean to tolerance, with lessons for us today

Whilst it is perhaps to small to be called a "genre" there is a body of movies about working-class community action groups triumphing over threats. Think "Brassed off", "Made in Dagenham", "The Full Monty". In "Pride" the story is slightly different. A Welsh mining village is trying to cope with the privations caused by the Miners' Strike in 1985. A group of Lesbian/Gay activists in London decide they want to help and offer their services to the village. The community is Macho, proud, inclusive and as prejudiced as you'd expect in this social context and those times. The Only Gay in the Village (beautifully played by Bill Nighy) has never come out and is unlikely to. Some villagers are openly homophobic. Some more tolerant. Some intrigued. Gradually the "welcome the gays" group gains sway and an effective, funny, heart-warming and moving arrangement is reached and the village benefits financially and emotionally from the Gay group's efforts.

The story is a true one and the characters are (or were, AIDS took its toll) real people. Most of the villagers had never been exposed to gays and lesbians and a key message is that once they  were their natural instinct was a tolerant one. Similarly the members of the gay group had never been exposed to the hard, rough life and culture of a mining village. Again the more they were the more they understood the social mores.

This is not a sentimental movie and it feels authentic. Twenty years later society has moved on and the stigma attached to homosexuality has diminished, if not vanished. This in no way means that the story is only of historic interest. The Miners' strike was about power - who ran the country. The reaction to the strike by the Thatcher government was brutal and impatient. The strike divided communities and to "beat" the miners was a cause Thatcher fought with determination. The power she wielded proved, in the end, to be greater than the power of the Union and of its members. She won. Meanwhile, along the way, there were acts of heroism, even sacrifice by those in mining areas and those helping them. Although the strike is to some extent a backdrop to the story of growing engagement between the village and its gay helpers it is much more than that.

There are some fine sub-plots as well. One if the gays is from North Wales and estranged from his mother for a decade or more because of his homosexuality. This is resolved happily. A young gay man hasn't revealed his gayness to his prim middle-class family in commuter-land Kent. "Bromley", as he is called, has to leave his gruesome prejudiced parents in the end, but because of the sense of community with the others he has somewhere to go. This is a film about prejudice and tolerance, ignorance and understanding, wisdom and foolishness. It is a film about the damage macroeconomic decisions, like mine closures, can have on microeconomic communities. About the dangers of being disconnected from the people.

And so today have we permanently shifted our capacity for tolerance so that all is now well? Of course not. The underlying differences of class, wealth, power and opportunity which characterise "Pride" have not been swept away just because we now have civil partnerships and "equal" marriage. The predisposition to punish (wittingly or unwittingly) the poor and disadvantaged in pursuit of some economic ideology hasn't gone away either. The ghastly lack of real opportunity for those who are disadvantaged by the lottery of where they were born shamefully remains, twenty years on. And the scapegoating that in 1985 was suffered by gays and miners is now suffered by others in our society. And we even have a political party which institutionalises that scapegoating against individuals and groups who don't match up to their conventional template because of (among other things) their race, nationality or sexual preference.

The pride in "Pride" is about more than Gay Pride. It is about how all of us prosper not despite our differences but because of them. To tolerate gays in a Welsh mining village was a challenge, but when it happened everyone was enriched. To accept multiculturalism today is a challenge as well - the familiar is always more comfortable. But in applying the same tolerance and understanding that the Welsh miners and their families did back in 1985 today we might just achieve the same result. Ignorance is the danger, knowledge leads to understanding and tolerance.