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    Unity is Pride

    Pride is a film that will most definitely change your life and how you see the world. It follows two very different communities who found strength by standing together.

    Inspired by a miraculous true story, it is set in 1984 when Margaret Thatcher was in power and the National Union of Mineworkers was on strike, prompting a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists to raise money to support the strikers' families. Initially rebuffed by the union, the group identified a tiny mining village in Wales and set off to make its donation in person. As the strike dragged on, the two groups discovered that standing together makes for the strongest union of all.

    Unity is Pride

    Worlds collide and then entwine with passion, fervour and integrity in this rousing celebration of the alliance between two disparate groups of people who came together over their shared history of oppression, shattering prejudices and forging unlikely friendships along the way.

    "The story is about what happens when communities stand in unity against a common enemy," says producer David Livingstone "Whilst Pride is both funny and moving it is also true. So to see characters start on opposing sides, but then come together in such a significant way, is extremely powerful. It's both very moving and life affirming when you realise that this actually happened and that most of these characters are real."

    Utterly delightful film

    The utterly delightful film from Tony Award-winning theatre director Matthew Warchus (Matilda: The Musical, God of Carnage) features a large ensemble cast led by Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) with the other roles played by a host of well-known British actors including Dominic West (300, The Wire), Paddy Considine (Dead Man's Shoes) and Joseph Gilgun (This Is England) as well as relatively new faces such as Ben Schnetzer (The Book Thief, Posh), George MacKay (How I Live Now, Sunshine On Leith) and Faye Marsay (The White Queen, Fresh Meat).

    Unity is Pride

    The idea for the film was developed over a long period, as playwright and screenwriter Stephen Beresford explains: "Most people don't really believe this story when they first hear it and I was the same," he said, "but a tiny part of me thought if that's true it's an incredible story. I really thought it was a myth, but was intrigued. I looked it up and found a tiny reference to it. Years and years later I happened upon a book with a passage about Mark Ashton, which confirmed it was true. I knew then that I had to write it. I then discovered that the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) had made their own video, which I tracked down, and that was the beginning, but it was a long time gestating."

    In 1984 the UK's National Union of Mineworkers began a nationwide strike in protest at planned coal mine closures around the country. The Thatcher government responded with measures that were not only tough, but frequently brutal. Among the many groups who supported the striking miners was a group of gay and lesbian activists in London who, following the Gay Pride march in the same year, decided to raise money for the strike fund on the grounds that they had the same adversaries: the Thatcher government, the police and the tabloids. Calling themselves Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) and, unable to get their early donations accepted by the miners' union, they set off in an old minibus to a remote village in Wales to hand over the money in person. So began an extraordinary tale of friendship and solidarity, following the events of a fraught 12 months during which LGSM became one of the biggest fundraisers in the whole of the UK.

    Unity is Pride

    I just couldn't say no

    "This was a script I just couldn't say no to," says Warchus. "It made me laugh out loud, it surprised and delighted me at every turn, and it ultimately moved me to tears. It's a truly affirming and inspiring story, funny, honest and moving, and by the end of it you want to punch the air and cheer!"

    Warchus also couldn't help but feel a very personal connection to the story and its subject matter. The director, who turned 18 during the strike, spent his formative years living in a small hamlet in Yorkshire overshadowed by Europe's largest coal-fired power station. "These ultra-modern mines were never threatened with closure at the time," he recalls, "but I remember picket lines outside the power station gates as I travelled to sixth-form college. This historic conflict was yet another landmark of gloom in my formative years: a grim and anxious time of air-raid siren tests for nuclear attacks, IRA bombings, and then, of course, AIDS."

    The screenplay also reminded Warchus of the enormous shift in the cultural landscape of the UK that has taken place in the intervening 30 years. "Fighting for the right to work underground in appalling conditions seems hard to understand today, but in 1984 the mining communities knew it was all they had, for their generation and ones to come," he explains. "'I'm fighting for my son's right to work' was a sign frequently seen on picket lines. The miners' strike, we now know, wasn't ever just about economics. It was a key battle in a broader war of ideologies: the common good versus self-interest, society versus the individual, and socialism versus capitalism.

    "A few years after the strike, Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, there are individual men and women and there are families," continues Warchus. "Pride's main characters fervently believe in the opposite, in the power of unity. That this somehow seems so refreshing today is proof of how far we have drifted. Did Thatcher succeed in changing how we think? She certainly changed our lexicon. I can clearly recall the day I morphed from being a train 'passenger' to a 'customer'. I remember thinking it was a slightly amusing attempt at a jargon shift that would never catch on. But when BT shares came up for grabs and council houses went on sale, the mass slide into capitalism was underway. Are we now a horde of individuals driven by self-interest, striving for life's lottery win, the big break. 'It could be you!' Not you and your mates, just you."

    A classic romantic comedy

    But what makes the story so compelling for Warchus is that it avoids party politics or preachy agendas. "Both groups in the film - the LGSM and the Welsh miners - are certainly politically minded, but it's their humanity that's so compelling. Pride engages the audience in much bigger concepts of generosity and compassion. As I sat down to edit the film, it dawned on me that the film, in humorously depicting the developing relationship between apparent opposites who somehow overcome the obstacles between them, turns out to be a classic romantic comedy. But the relationship isn't between individuals, but between two groups, or communities. And they are driven not by romantic love, but by compassion. I think it reminds us of the idea of society - that there is, of course, such a thing after all."

    Pride releases nationwide in South Africa on 16 January, so treat yourself to this great festive gift that is ideal to share with friends and loved ones.

    You will laugh, you will cry, but most of all, you will never forget this super film that will break your heart and proudly shows how important it is for communities to unite in peace.

    Read more about Pride and other new film releases: www.writingstudio.co.za

    About Daniel Dercksen

    Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za
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