Pride — the word could not be more charged — is his first feature film as a writer.
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Three years later and the film, shot in Banwen, Wales, and London, and directed by Tony-winning Matthew Warchus responsible for Matilda the Musical , and soon to be artistic director of the Old Vic , is finished. You might assume a romcom about striking miners and 80s gays was unlikely to be big box-office, but the same was probably said of Billy Elliot.
Pride looks likely to be a massive hit. It is wonderful. I've seen it twice, laughed repeatedly, wept at the end. You might wonder how, after the defeat of the miners, an upbeat ending could be legitimate, but this is one of the film's many achievements. The story could easily have gone awry but never belly-flops into sentimentality — its feelgood factor is earned. It evokes the 80s uncannily. And what is most remarkable is that it does not trivialise the politics of the time.
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It opens with a rallying Arthur Scargill on TV, saying the miners will, one day, be able to tell themselves: "I was proud and privileged to be part of the greatest struggle on Earth. Thatcher appears, looking like a possessed marionette, her bossy elocution a declaration of intent, as if she means her voice to carry, to be heard generations on. Most of the real people who were involved are alive to tell their tales, although Aids casts its shadow in the events of the film and has taken several LGSM members this is not Pride 's primary subject but readers who would prefer not to know anything about its impact on the film should stop reading here.
Beresford's problem was how to make contact with the survivors from the mining community and LGSM with no obvious internet trail to help him. But one crucial find — a half-hour documentary, All Out! Dancing in Dulais , created by LGSM for the miners — became a vital resource and makes a fascinating introduction to the cast. Its most arresting character is a charming, fresh-faced Irish boy, Mark Ashton , who died of Aids in He was one of the founders of LGSM and talks like a leader: "One community should give solidarity to another.
It is really illogical to say, 'I'm gay and I'm into defending the gay community but I don't care about anything else…'. In Pride , he is beautifully played by Ben Schnetzer with spontaneity, sweetness and swagger — a heartbreaker. Beresford says he was the hardest character to recapture, not least because: "In Wales, they still talk about Mark Ashton as if he were Joan of Arc. In the homemade LGSM documentary, we also glimpse a tall, handsome fellow wearing groovy leather trousers, shaking a donations bucket outside Gay's the Word bookshop in London's Marchmont Street — this is Jonathan Blake.
A small, bespectacled chap, busy with paperwork, is northern English leftie Mike Jackson, described by Beresford as a "keeper of the flame, then and now". Among the Welsh contingent, a young woman stands out — one of the stars of the homemade doc. She explains how the gay community educated the mining community: "Their struggle is similar to our own.
Beresford describes her as a "powerhouse, a highly intelligent working-class woman, an engine of social action". And there is Dai Donovan, Welsh miner, courageous and open-minded, speaking with dignity at the benefit concert Pits and Perverts the phrase was the Sun's, reclaimed by LGSM as a badge of honour. Cliff, an older miner in the film, a killingly funny and affecting Bill Nighy appears in the documentary saying: "The lesbians and gays have been super duper. But because this was an amateur documentary, no names accompanied the faces.
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The credits, luckily, included an uncommon name: Reggie Blennerhassett. Eventually he met almost everyone.
Yet he knew he would also need an invented character. Joe sensitively played by George MacKay is a sixth-former, a suburban mouse discovering his sexuality to cover for absences from home when he is with LGSM, he tells his folks he is doing a choux pastry course. What happens to him is like what happens to the straight audience — he mirrors the slight feeling of trepidation.
It helps to have someone who does not know where he is going because an audience can think: neither do I. Beresford was honest with all his interviewees from the Welsh mining community and from LGSM: "I'm a ruthless teller of stories. I told them this won't be a documentary. Now, because I'm about to meet some of the original people involved, I have to ask: how has the film gone down? He admits he was "incredibly frightened" before the first screening.
But at the end there was stunned silence, applause, tears. Dai Donovan, visibly moved, asked: "May I speak? He said the time had come for them to thank us, as film-makers. He said, 'None of us believed this story would see the light of day. It is a document for the future, it exists for all time. After the strike, Mike Jackson felt "sad to think that when I died this history would be forgotten.
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The archive is in the People's History Museum, Manchester — but nobody would have known it was there". Now his eyes shine as he remembers the Welsh miners who came to London to march with Gay Pride in June The film gets that so right. But I feel the same now, if anything more angry. I hate Margaret Thatcher as much as ever. I speak to Blennerhassett — Beresford's key to the story — and his partner, Ray Aller, on the phone and they agree that being involved in LGSM was "the best time of our lives".
They tell me they were paid extras in the film's final march: "We were costumed for the 80s. It was a stirring day to relive and many younger people were fascinated. One hope is that the film might revive political interest because the activism of the left has been sidelined, the trade unions are weak, gay rights issues aren't there.
Like many of those I interview, they say the film made them weep and they see it, in part, as a memorial to Mark Ashton. Blennerhassett says: "It is very hard to watch.
When you see Ben playing Mark, it is like he has come back to life — it is unbelievable. I meet Jonathan Blake at Mike Jackson's flat and he brings along a black-and-white photo of himself dancing at the miners' welfare hall.
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We look at it together: he is leaning back, eyes closed, hands clapping. He is handsome, relaxed, basking in the moment. It was this image that inspired a dancing scene in Pride in which Dominic West really goes for it and climbs on the tabletops, wowing everyone in sight. The real Jonathan is warm and bearish, with a mohican, chic specs, a scarlet fleece, hippyish brown leather shoes — loads of visual flair. In the film, Jonathan is more actor than activist. Our first sighting of him is with fox fur and whistle outside Gay's the Word book shop.
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What does he think of Dominic West's portrayal? I like to think he is me — he dances beautifully. Jonathan was one of the first to be diagnosed with HIV in this country yet recently celebrated his 65th birthday. When he did not die, he had to live: "I tried to get my strength up but didn't want to face the world.
They are still together and recently had West and director Matthew Warchus to tea. Jonathan baked a lemon drizzle cake. Jonathan and Nigel had recently been told by Stephen Beresford that in the film Jonathan would have a different partner to real life, Welsh Gethin Andrew Scott. Nigel took it well; the real Gethin still teases Jonathan about it. The first time Jonathan saw the film was "difficult, because all I could think about was the people who had died".
The second time, he could "settle in and enjoy it". For him, the most important thing is what the collaboration led to.
The [resulting equality resolution] became the trajectory that would lead to civil partnerships and marriages. I have to admit that before meeting any of the real people involved, I had assumed they would be more ordinary than their on-screen incarnations. In the film, he is busy, radical, wears a beanie hat and is in love with the young, handsome Mark Ashton who, at one point, comes to his house calling from the street for "the Accrington sodomite" through a megaphone. The last thing I expect is that on the evidence of the film and amateur documentary — 30 years old — I will recognise Mike immediately as he walks into our King's Cross rendezvous but, even minus the beanie, I do.
Mike Jackson? I tell him Beresford has been raving to me about his beautiful garden — Mike teaches gardening to beginners, trained at Kew, has been doing it all his life, even during the miners' strike.