I have been desperate for a film like this to be made – a film that treated the struggle of the miners’ seriously but also could give me further context and a new angle for that struggle. The Miner’s Strike was a formative experience in the creation of my political awareness and identity. As a teenager in Sheffield, I remember walking past the shaking buckets held by big, burly men during a very cold winter into which I would throw the 2p it would have cost me to get from school to town. (I even once stole a couple of tins from our larder to put into a food collection – sorry Mum). It is an experience I keep revisiting aware that at 14, I was only ever at the edges of something big and important. The more I learn about the strike, the more I see the way it shaped politics, policing and protest.
So, I was relieved that the film taught me more and is near perfect, especially in its portrayal of the 1980s, often painted as populated by shoulder pads, slick bankers and yuppies. For me, it was a period of second-hand over-sized clothes and grubbiness. (Why “near” perfect? – my big quibble is with the portrayal of the group Lesbians Against Pit Closures, where the full context of those politics is not really made clear, making it easy to laugh at. Feminist action does not always find a comfortable home within trade union politics – this is explained better here: http://www.gayinthe80s.com/2014/09/1984-politics-lesbians-against-pit-closures/)
So, what is the significance of a film like Pride? Walter Benjamin ((1942) 1999: 248) once wrote:
[W]ith whom does the adherent of historicism actually empathise? The answer is inevitable: with the victor. And all the rulers are the heirs of those who conquered before them… Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those lying prostrate.
Victory, as Benjamin so articulately evokes, is in the eye of the triumphant; the powerful. For this reason “success is an elusive idea” (Gamson, 1994: 414) for the many who cannot claim victory. This is why I cried throughout the beautiful rendition of “Bread and Roses” (lyrics here: http://unionsong.com/u159.html ), because I knew the outcome. There is no spoiler here – the miners did not win their strike action. And because they did not win the lesson we are expected to learn is that: governments are stronger than unions, that political action is worth less than police action, that individual hard work is the way to succeed rather than collective action, that dignity does not feed your family and that identity politics can be separated out and we are all in competition for the scraps of political power.
However, this film also uncovers what was won as well as what was lost. It celebrates bravery. It reminds us that history could have been different and that one battle is not the whole war.
On a personal note, that 14 year old Catholic school girl had a lot of learning to do. And I thank the Tories of that era for their terrible homophobia, fear-mongering response to AIDS and Clause 28. Without that, it might have taken longer to find my own acceptance and celebration of gay politics and rights. My enemy’s enemy became my friend.
The film has a magnificent cast (superb inter-generational acting), an eye for detail and weaves the personal and political expertly. So, go and see this film.
Benjamin, W. (1999) Illuminations London: Random House
Gamson, W. A (1990) “Defining Movement ‘Success’” in Goodwin, J. and Jasper, J. M. (eds.) (2009) The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts [2nd Edition] Malden, MA.: Wiley-Blackwell