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Working in a Coal Mine

"Pride" features a (mostly) fun take on a true story and great acting

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Based on the real actions by gay activists to support striking miners in 1984 Great Britain, "Pride" is an enjoyable showcase for some fine actors, as well as a fun springboard for good British humor.

Sporting a particularly awesome Morrissey haircut, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) is fronting a gay activist group in England that is having a hard time getting noticed and respected. Mark notices that the miners union is taking a real beating with the public and with the government, and suggests to his group that collecting money for the miners would be a solid publicity ploy with charitable rewards.

Young Joe (George MacKay) goes for a walk on his 20th birthday and encounters Mark and his group marching in a gay pride parade. He joins in, eventually hearing of Mark's plan to support the miners. He decides to eschew his collegiate responsibilities and join the fight.

An eventual meeting with the miners brings some great actors into the show. Paddy Considine is terrific as Dai, one of their leaders, a grateful man who stands up for the gay support while many in the town shun their existence. A speech given by Dai at a gay establishment is genuinely warm and rousing, and pretty much sets the tone for the film.

Bill Nighy is equally wonderful as Cliff, a meek loner on the miner's side who seems a bit skittish at first but becomes one of the gays staunchest supporters. Imelda Staunton delivers as Hefina, a woman who has had just about enough of the useless prejudicial tactics coming from some of her friends.

On the detractor side, there would be Maureen (Lisa Palfrey) filling the requisite villain role, citing AIDS as her reason for rebuffing the gays' efforts. Many of the men are similarly threatened. One of the film's greatest scenes involves real life gay activist Jonathan Blake (played by Dominic West) dancing up a storm at a mixer with the miners. He wins over some of the crusty union members if only because they want to learn his dance moves and score some points with the ladies.

While West's dance extravaganza certainly stands as one of the film's highlights, my personal favorite scene is a simple one where Nighy and Staunton are sitting next to each other making sandwiches. They say very little in the exchange, and some of what is said is about as surprising as oranges being orange, but it's still mighty powerful. It's two solid performers getting their own moment together, and making the most of it.

While some of the characters (including Ashton and Blake) come from real life, others are fictional. Joe is the main protagonist of the story, and while his coming out plotline didn't actually happen, it is well played by MacKay, and provides the story with a bit of family drama when his parents find out. The overall storyline stays faithful to history in that the miners eventually lost their struggle and returned to work somewhat defeated.

This is only the second directorial effort from Matthew Warchus, an effort that is sure to get him some more work. The script is from Dennis Kelly, a British TV writer making his feature debut. Warchus and Kelly are allegedly working on a musical update of Roald Dahl's "Matilda," which will hopefully be better than Danny DeVito's lackluster '96 effort with the same character.

Sure, "Pride" is a little predictable at times, but the cast is undeniably brilliant. It has the feel of some of the great British comedy-dramas of recent years like "The Full Monty" and "Billy Elliot." Because it's actually telling a true story, it has a little more heft than those cinematic bonbons.

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