Thatcher, Miners and Gays, Oh My! Surge of British Strike Movies

Cinema

Thatcher, Miners, and Gays, Oh my!

Pride is a critically acclaimed 2014 film based on a true story about unlikely allies in 1984: gays and miners. Being moved by the British miners’ strike, openly gay Mark Ashton (portrayed by Ben Schnetzer) started the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) and collected money for the struggling families of miners. Whilst London-based National Union of Mineworkers unofficially declined the collection, LGSM donated directly to a South Welsh mining community named Onllwyn.

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The fictional story of Joe “Bromley” Cooper (George MacKay) is interspersed throughout the film. Being 20 years of age, he is not legally allowed to be a ‘practicing gay’ until the age of 21. Throughout the movie, he’s struggling to get to know himself and being secure with it. At home, he’s the perfect heterosexual son that’s going to culinary school. Outside, he joins LGSM and finally starts enjoying his life.

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The movie goes into the social struggles of Britain in the 1980s. The policing of homosexuals was not seen so much in the movie, but is implied to have been harassing and discriminatory before the start of the film (aka before the start of the miners’ strike). The mining communities were being hit hard by the pit closures, the pay restrains and layoffs that many families were struggling to keep their heads above the waters. Both groups felt that the government, headed by Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher, had wronged them.

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But Pride isn’t the first time we’ve heard of the 1984 British miners’ strike in the gay circuit. In both the film and musical versions of Billy Elliot, the fictional mining town Everington Village is actively on strike and struggling to make ends meet. Billy’s father signed him up for boxing lessons, but soon Billy finds himself more interested in ballet lessons. After the death of his mother, the family is still shaken up as his father and older brother heads to the picket lines. Billy is torn between respecting his father’s wishes and stop dancing, or using his talent and do what he loves to do.

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If British strikes and the politics behind them interests you, then Made in Dagenham is also a great choice. The 2010 film and subsequent 2014 musical introduces the audience to a fictitious Rita O’Grady leading the factual 1968 Ford sewing machinist strike. Tired of being sexually discriminated against, O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) leads Ford sewers (all perceivably women) to strike for equal pay as a skilled worker. Her work, backed by Employment Secretary Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), led to the Equal Pay Act 1970.

Sally being Sassy as Rita
Sally being Sassy as Rita

Subjective Reviews

All three films are actually well-received in the critic department, with 80%+ positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.2+/10 score from IMDb on any of them. I, as well, do believe these films to be quite great. In talking about the films subjectively, I will avoid any major spoilers but there’s no promises of complete naivety in watching the films.

Rosamund Pike in Made in Dagenham
Rosamund Pike in Made in Dagenham

After watching Made in Dagenham, I had sent texting referrals to Roxie and a couple other friends to watch this film. Having seen a trailer at the beginning of another film, I had no idea bout a women’s strike, especially in the 1960s. Hawkins plays an amazing lead as a woman who’s fighting for her human right against the odds. Daniel Mays plays Hawkins’ passive-aggressive husband Eddie very well as Rosamund Pike‘s performance may bring an eventual tear to the eye (plus, she’s stunning). My personal favorite character was fiery-headed Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), who gives off the same aura of Thatcher or McGonagall as a fearsomely sassy woman.

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According to the Wikipedia page, the musical version did poorly in sales. Despite having veteran stars like Gemma Arterton, the musical’s run ended after only half a year.

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Gemma Arterton as Rita O’Grady

The 2000 film version of Billy Elliot starred an adolescent Jamie Bell. Not really knowing of him or noting him in any movies before Jumper, watching him play Billy was quite amazing. His early works gave him a lot of leg work, starting with Billy Elliot and his crippled Nicholas Nickleby character Smike. Catching up on other Jamie Bell movies are actually a real treat that nobody should deprive themselves of.

Perhaps even more stunning, the musical version of Billy Elliot is hard to negatively criticize. Winner of 10 Tonys and 10 Drama Desk awards, it’s full of emotions, singing, jokes and (most impressively) dancing. The work is so strenuous for boys who play Billy that each run had multiple Billys to alternate between shows. Having seen it onstage, I wish I had more eyes to watch every little thing happening at times. Truly, a stunning musical.

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Pride meets up with equal praise. With Ben Schnetzer, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy with a cameo by Russell Tovey, the film is ultra-stocked with British stars. As stated in his IMDb page, Schnetzer had proved his versatility in accents, having been raised in America but studying accents for The Book TheiefThe Riot Club, and Pride. In Pride, he plays the likable LGSM leader that has a life-alternating realization midway in the movie.

Pride Concepts

There were two concepts in Pride that I found notable.

Considine’s character Dai tells Mark about a banner that hangs in the town hall in Onllwyn. Seen on this banner are two hands shaking, which Dai states shows that people need to help each other in times of need and to succeed in accomplishing similar goals. Shaking hands support each other and shows companionship and camaraderie between two people.

The other concept that Mark brings up happens after a newspaper called the LGSM group “a bunch of perverts” and that miners accepting money from them are obviously desperate. Mark states that “when (people) give you a name, you own it,” creating the event entitled Pits and Perverts Benefit Ball.

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Both the concepts in it’s basic theory are actually quite nice. I’m all for supporting other people when I believe it’s a just cause, but I do think there’s a limit when there’s a cause I’m not particularly partial. And as for owning up to a name, I can’t care less what people call me, so the concept holds water for me. Mark is very clever to utilize the free publicity and owning up to the name for marketing and PR.

If you have a chance, go find these films and watch them. If you’re like me, you’d want to buy a version afterwards. I was lucky to have watched Billy Elliot on Netflix and the other two through our local library. Check yours out for movies you may be interested in and get educated.

Knowledge is Power. Learn, little Pagemaster.

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