The winner of the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival has been acquired for Stateside distribution by CBS Films, it was announced today. Directed by Tony winner Matthew Warchus from a script by Stephen Beresford, the “dramatic comedy” stars Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Andrew Scott, Joseph Gilgun, George MacKay and Ben Schnetzer in a fact-based story about the unlikely alliance between LGBT activists and striking mineworkers in the U.K. during the mid-1980s.
The film has been slated for Stateside release on September 19, 2014.
The Queer Palm is an independently-sponsored award started in 2010 that recognizes Cannes-screened films for their treatment of LGBT (or “altersexual”) themes. Past winners include Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom,” Oliver Hermanus’s “Beauty,” Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways” and Alain Guiraudie’s “Stranger by the Lake.”
It sometimes feels that the British film industry only makes about three or four different kinds of movies: dreadful gangster films that rarely get a release abroad, gritty social realism pictures, period costume dramas, and semi-quirky comedies with a tearjerking side, exemplified by something like “Billy Elliot” or “The Full Monty,” but more often turning out like “Calendar Girls” or “Song For Marion.”
The latter category might be the most dispiriting of them all, and it’s the category that “Pride” initially seemed to be fitting into. The film, directed by acclaimed theater director Matthew Warchus (who just this week was appointed Kevin Spacey’s successor as the artistic director of the Old Vic Theater in London), has that mix of social issues drama, culture clash, old people doing unlikely things, and Bill Nighy that so often proves a middlebrow crowd-pleaser. But we figured there had to be a reason it had been picked to close the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes, and indeed there was: it’s a really, really good example of the genre, perhaps the best and most moving since “Billy Elliot.”
It shares one major element with that film: it centers around the 1984 miners strike, where the coal miners stopped work for almost a year in an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to stop Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to close down the pits. That’s not where we start, though. We begin as Mark (Ben Schnetzer), a confident Northern Irish social activist, and Joe (rising star George MacKay), a shy, closeted suburban kid, head to the gay pride march in London. Joe meets Max’s pal Mike (Joseph Gilgun, from “This Is England”) at the march, and becomes fast friends with them.
Matthew Warchus turns an inspirational true story of Thatcher-era community activism into a deft crowdpleaser. The true tale of how two very different communities came together in London and Wales during the lengthy U.K. miners’ strike of 1984-5 makes for an irresistible crowdpleaser in “Pride,” the sophomore feature from garlanded British theater director Matthew Warchus. The story of the little-remembered Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners movement (LGSM) plays so many inspirational, feel-good notes, the only real surprise is that it’s taken three decades to be unearthed for cinematic purposes. Word of mouth could easily propel the comedy-drama to positively sinful success, especially in its home market, Blighty.
The U.K. has a history of mining gold from stories of personal growth rooted in traditional communities, notably the fictional “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot,” and it’s this tradition that has brought forth “Pride,” the first produced feature script by actor Stephen Beresford. And he has found commercially astute collaborators in Warchus and debuting producer David Livingstone, who for many years orchestrated the marketing campaigns for Universal-owned, London-based hitmakers Working Title (of the Richard Curtis canon).
The action begins in June 1984 at the London Gay Pride march. Suburban, closeted, 20-year-old trainee chef Joe (George MacKay, here playing the film’s principal invented character) nervously joins the throng, and is swept up by a politicized group of friends who continue the party at the Gay’s the Word bookstore near Russell Square. It’s here that LGSM is born, led by charismatic Northern Irishman Mark (U.S.-born, U.K.-trained Ben Schnetzer, “The Book Thief”) and Northern English leftie Mike (Joseph Gilgun), with support from a diverse group including bookstore owner Gethin (Andrew Scott), flamboyant actor Jonathan (Dominic West) and the feisty Steph (Faye Marsay), who at this point remains the token lesbian. Asked why they should support homophobic miners, Mark reminds everyone that they share a common alliance of enemies: prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the police and the right-wing tabloid press.