Morality and politics are frequently intertwined. Political debate and campaigning can revolve around questions about what is right or wrong, but are politics, government and legislation not more practical, more about opportunities, protection from harm and facilities available for citizens? This has always seemed to me the function of government – provide for citizens’ practical needs, rather than our moral wellbeing, because we can take care of that ourselves.
Matthew Warchus’ brilliant sociological comedy drama Pride draws a sharp distinction between morality and politics and the value of this separation. Based on a true story, the film follows a newly-formed group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, who encounter great hostility from the miners they support during the Miners Strike of 1984. The reason for this hostility is homophobia: some among the Welsh mining community view the homosexuals as morally perverse and object to their assistance and presence. The LGSM support the miners as a fellow group oppressed by the government and the support they provide is purely financial, ultimately paying for the miners’ new van, an essential resource for the strike. Here is the result of political activism – money used for practical support of citizens’ needs. Despite the essential resource this money provides for, the miners union ultimately rejects the continued assistance of the LGSM, the conservative among them refusing to waver in their conviction that homosexuals are perverts, despite the benefit that LGSM brings for the miners. This moral position leads to the partnership between the miners union and LGSM being dissolved, and it is a truly tragic moment to see prejudice and inflexibility triumph over openness and practicality.
Despite this dissolution, friendships remain between the miners and gay activists, reappearing at the film’s triumphant climax at Gay Pride 1985. I have written before about the novelty of crying at films, and Pride provided another new experience: crying with joy at a film. Politically, I am left wing so this film was always going to agree with me, but political films need to integrate their politics into an engaging story. Pride is engaging on multiple levels: it has rounded, likeable characters with personal and political struggles; it tells an important historical story (simplified and fictionalised for narrative purposes but still raising awareness); it balances humour and pathos in equal measure. Best of all, it uses its politics for dramatic effect, so while the audience is being entertained they are also receiving a political lesson. This lesson is the benefit of practical politics and focusing upon benefits rather than morality. The moral inflexibility of some of the miners has no relevance to the practicalities of the strike, but the unity between the miners and the gays has great impact for both groups.
Pride’s central theme is the coming together of different people. In a crucial scene, activist leader Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) explains to miner Dai (Paddy Considine) why he supports the Miners’ Strike: “It’s just logical”. Mark’s motivation is the promotion of people’s rights, be they workers, homosexuals, women, people of colour, or any group whose rights are restricted. Ideology need not be a barrier to unity – all those with restricted rights can stand together. The final march through Westminster not only demonstrates unity but also its effect, supertext informing the viewer of a practical, legislative difference made possible by the unity between LGSM and the NUM. Pride expresses the practical impact of political activism, as well as being an uplifting, engaging, humorous and very moving story, making it one of the best films of the year.