Arthur Scargill, Bill Nighy, Bronski Beat, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Gay Rights, Jeremy Stoljar, Matthew Warchus, Miners' Strike, National Union of Miners, Pride, Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption
Sometimes I watch a movie that is worthy of a blog. I’m no David Stratton though – just keep that in mind. Pride is a movie directed by Matthew Warchus who interestingly directed the run away success West End musical Matilda. The movie covers a lot of ground – gay rights and the 1980s UK miners’ strike. While it is about gay rights and the rights of workers to strike for their rights it is probably mostly about community and tolerance. I migrated to the North of England in the aftermath of the miners’ strike in 1985. The scars of that decision are still very much evident today in the north of England Wales and Scotland. In the end the National Union of Miners was smashed and along with it its leader Arthur Scargill. Thatcher prevailed and pits were shut. Communities were devastated and the world moved on. What Warchus achieves in Pride is getting mostly right the delicate mix between humour and pathos, serious reflection and social commentary.
The juxtaposition of the uncompromising Welsh miners with the flamboyant and confident gay and lesbian activists is what makes the movie work so well. The wry humour works well too. In the wrong hands this could easily have been a dirge. The contrast of the hustle and bustle of London with its gay clubs and 90s dance music and the town of Onllwyn in the Dulais valley in Wales. This is, of course, the country where (with respect to our Southern Hemisphere neighbours) ‘men are men and sheep are nervous’. They’ll be having no poofs there then. And yet they do and the story focuses on how the mining community comes to accept the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) action group. The mid-80s aren’t that long ago and the soundtrack reminds us of that with eponymous music as Bronski Beat and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Hard to believe then that in 1985 the legal age of consent for gay men was 21. Much has changed, or has it? In Australia some thirty years on we still don’t have equality of marriage for gay people. Perhaps in 30 years time people will look back on this time and have the same sense of bewilderment.
For me, the balance that Warchus achieves with such a laden agenda of issues to explore, is his crowning achievement. The film is not without flaws though and some of the sub-plots, perhaps necessary because it was a true story, don’t add much and could be edited out. But really that is just splitting hairs.
Balance is important in all aspects; be it film-making or business. Last week I dipped into the submission by the Senior Council assisting the Commissioner on the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and saw a lack of finesse and balance. We run the risk of repeating the sins of our fathers if we don’t bring some reason into our approach to industrial relations. For the economy to work, and for us to prosper, we need to find an accord between both the owners of capital and those whose labour makes capital work. To remove the rights of employees to band together as a bastion against unscrupulous employers is a breach of our fundamental human rights. We cannot rely on employers to do right by their workers all the time. We could not rely on Thatcher to do right by the small Welsh communities. To unshackle them from the fear of collective action being taken against them would, I suspect, bring out not the best but the worst in them. Jeremy Stoljar SC could do worse than take a few hours out of his busy schedule and watch Pride and realise that some things are worth protecting and others worth advocating for change. The trick, the wisdom is knowing which falls into which category.
As a footnote I must give a big plug for my old mate (we used to shop in the same Tesco) Bill Nighy who plays the character Cliff. It is simple understated acting that totally hits the mark and is almost impossible to achieve. If you want a definition of what silences are all about, watch his performance.