“I’m the only gay in the village” is the most memorable line of British comic Matt Lucas’s character, Daffyd Thomas, in the mid-2000s sketch-comedy series Little Britain. Quite possibly what made Daffyd’s character so funny was that he was living in the UK in 2003, where standing in skin-tight rubber costumes in rural Welsh pubs might draw the occasional raised eyebrow but, thanks in part to progressive laws and social attitudes, carried limited danger of persecution for being out. But the social context of the new film Pride, which tells the story of how gay activists and striking miners formed a surprising alliance in the summer of 1984, was quite different, not only for members of the LGBTQ community but also for many of Britain’s workers. I was living in the United States in 1984 when the events portrayed took place, so to better understand the importance of this film I spoke, via email, to Susan Corbett, a member of both the Liverpool Humanist Group and the Merseyside Skeptics Society, and an LGBTQ advocate. Consider it a trans-Atlantic At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert.
Jason Heap: I taught history—including British history—in UK State-maintained schools. One of the things that I appreciated about Pride is that it didn’t try to vilify Margaret Thatcher’s decisions nor did it romanticize miners’ union leader Arthur Scargill. I found the film particularly interesting for its historical aspect, given that there have been recent strikes in the UK this past week alone, and a potential huge strike coming up after the October 18 meeting of the Trades Union Congress.
Susan Corbett: What may be lost to many who watch this piece of cinematic majesty is the reality of the situation in the early 1980s regarding trade unions and their chokehold on the British economy. Many trade unions were effectively holding the country to ransom by demanding more and more increases in wages during a recession in the economy. At the time, all the main utilities were government-owned (British Rail, British Gas, British Electric, British Telecommunications, British Coal, etc. ) and the bills were being covered by the average worker in the street like myself—not by high-powered corporate business as is the case today. The striking unions had a point though: the wages for coalminers was below what would now be considered a minimum or even a “living” wage, and to increase profitability, pit closures had to be taken into consideration. The government, led by Margaret Thatcher, had some tough decisions to make—give in and pay the higher wages, thus passing on extra taxes to the general tax-paying populous, or tell the striking workers there simply wasn’t any money in the country’s purse to cover their demands.
Heap: The film also features the struggle for LGBTQ rights in the UK. Quentin Crisp had only just arrived to New York City from London in 1981, and that was also the first year that AIDS was clinically discovered. One of the characters in Pride makes some pejorative comments about AIDS and blames its existence on the LGBTQ community. Surely, a conservative mining community in Wales found it difficult to grasp that their supporters were urban-dwelling, openly gay people.
Corbett: Pride tastefully focuses more on the similarities between the struggles and discrimination being inflicted on both the striking miners and the gay community. The events of 1984 forged friendships between two very different communities that have continued to this day. The miners sent out a plea for help, little-knowing the one group they least expected would be their strongest ally. The first letter the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) sent to Dulais Valley in South Wales opened with a magical phrase, “We’re a bunch of queers in London, and we want to support you.” Had I received this through my letterbox, I bloody well would have taken notice!
The film is a delight of humor and sadness, as each group struggles with a growing understanding of the similar prejudices faced by the other, yet they ultimately develop loving friendships through their shared experiences. The common thread was years-long oppression. They quickly discovered they had more similarities than differences.
Heap: It’s always disappointing to see groups achieve what they want, and then see them desert the others who helped them or let the coalitions dissolve. What happened to the connection between the LGSM group and the Welsh miners?
Corbett: After the strike ended in 1985, the miners never forgot the generosity of the LGBTQ community. When it came to equal rights marches in October 1985, the National Union of Mineworkers pledged their support to the gay community and arrived by the busload to march alongside them. To me, that’s solidarity and respect shown to those who offered the hand of friendship and support.
Heap and Corbett: The film Pride boasts stellar performances by Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West, and the entire supporting cast made the film a delight. Pride is a must-see: two thumbs up!