If not for Mark Ashton, I would have considered this film to be a monumental waste of time. Sure, in 2014 this film seemed a triumph of “solidarity”, but to watch this in 2019, while the world is on the verge of ecological collapse and fires having been raging throughout Australia for months, it’s hard to care about miners. It’s hard not to feel disoriented at them being praised when mining directly contributes to 72% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, miners themselves are not to blame; it’s the governments in charge of opening new coalmines (14 new coal mines in New South Wales alone) that are responsible for the thousands of species of animals that have gone or are going extinct as a result of climate catastrophe. It’s a sad fucking world we’re living in right now, one that most people wouldn’t have dreamed of back in 2014.
The film centres around a group of queer people raising money and support for the miners, who in this timeline are striking for their rights against Thatcher’s tyranny. The group is led by Mark Ashton, a charismatic young man who dies of AIDS two years after the film is set. While the Welsh miners lose their strike, they also, get this, win the friendship of the queer community in London.
Why Matthew Warchus and Stephen Beresford decided to make this film in the first place is a pretty moot point, because the film is here and it was nominated for a Golden Globe and two BAFTAs, but it still makes me cringe. It’s a part of British queer history, and it’s important to tell Mark Ashton’s story, but I still cannot get over the fact that I’m watching this in 2019. I watched it in 2014 and again in 2016, and the only thing I remembered was asking someone in the audience as it was being screened in a university room why the miners were only eating buttered bread sandwiches, to which they replied, “They have no money.” The film had no effect on me.
The other thing I can’t get over is that they created a whole new character in a non-fictional story to act as the “audience surrogate” so that we can put ourselves into the story, when Mark Ashton was right there. Or even Jonathon Blake, who was one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in Britain, and was still alive at the time of the film’s release. (He might still be alive, I can’t find any sources.) I literally could not give a shit about Joe. He’s the most boring and unaffecting character in a film that aims to be affecting and exuberant, and he drags the whole thing down. Why in the world would you want to create a character so dull when you have so many amazing figures from history to draw from? Makes no sense, luv.
The film is dripping with sentimentality, and with the sweeping scores and cries of “solidarity forever!” it’s amazing the filmmakers got anything done outside their circle jerk. But I suppose we need uplifting films to balance out the unending horror of what it means to be queer and sad all the time!!! The last films I watched that weren’t so sentimental but also weren’t unendingly horrible were The Way He Looks, and before that Tom of Finland, both of which were fantastic. For the ladies there are plenty: Grandma, Lovesong, Jennifer’s Body, Princess Cyd, the Feels, La Luciernaga, Almost Adults, all of which I have already discussed on my previous blog.
The actors were charming, as were the majority of the characters, but there isn’t a whole lot that sticks out to me about this film. I will give it brownie points for not actually showing queerbashing and instead implying it. However, the film does manage to both showcase empathy between these two groups and draw it out from the viewers, closing the chasm between these seemingly incompatible forces. There are little things about the film that cause a tear to form in the eye, such as Bill Nighy’s character standing up to his bigoted sister-in-law, and then coming out later in the film, but the overall grandiosity failed to make me feel any way for the miners that the film intended. It is not better than A Single Man, and definitely not better than Tom of Finland, but then Pride was nominated for two BAFTAs, so.
But that’s just me, and this is my website so I can write whatever I want. If that’s not you, then write your own blog. And with that I bid you farewell for another three months until I tackle the next film on the list: Paris Is Burning.