Set in the summer of 1984 – Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is on strike. At the Gay Pride March in London, a group of gay and lesbian activists decides to raise money to support the families of the striking miners. But there is a problem. The Union seems embarrassed to receive their support. But the activists are not deterred. They decide to ignore the Union and go direct to the miners. They identify a mining village in deepest Wales and set off in a mini bus to make their donation in person. And so begins the extraordinary story of two seemingly alien communities who form a surprising and ultimately triumphant partnership.
Starring the likes of Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Joseph Gilgun, Paddy Considine, George MacKay, Ben Schnetzer, Sophie Evans, Jessie Cave, Freddie Fox, Faye Marsay, Adrian Palmer, Lasco Atkins and Shane Salter, ‘Pride’ opens in the UK and Ireland today (September 12th) and in the US on September 26th. The film is directed by Matthew Warchus
I can imagine that ‘Pride’ appealed to you on a number of levels: it’s an incredible true story, it’s hilarious, there’s great characters, and then there’s also the theme of social justice, Thatcher-era community activism, a look at trade union struggles and LGBT politics in Britain…?
Bill Nighy: You’re exactly right. If anything was ever a no brainer, this was it. The script came through the door, kind of unannounced. I read it cold and it made me laugh from start to finish. I laughed throughout. Good scripts are rare, and funny scripts are almost never. Also, even after I’d read it a number of times and I was studying it, I never got through it without crying at some point. It was one of the best scripts I’ve read in my life, and I really mean that. I was desperate to be in it and I loved playing this part. The two main themes are very close to my heart. If you were asked by your grandchildren, “What developments in your lifetime made you most proud to be around for?”, one of them would be the emancipation of gay men and women in my lifetime, and the other would be the civil rights movement in America.
When I was young people still went to jail for any public display of affection between people of the same sex. It’s bizarre to say that, and I’ve never understood it – and I still don’t understand any resistance to it whatsoever. And now in the 30 years since these events took place, I can now stand in a town hall in London and watch two of my male friends get married to one another and say “I love you” in a public place. I find that almost overwhelmingly moving, and it’s one of the great stories of my life.
For both the LGBT community and miners alike, this was a time of both suffering and struggle. Minors were demonized by an authoritarian government that decreed them to be “the enemy within”, and faced brutality on picket lines. Both gays and miners were persecuted by the police, reviled by the tabloid media, and attacked by Margaret Thatcher’s administration… and this was time you lived through.
Bill Nighy: Yeah. The minors strike was a scandal of huge proportions. It was a civil war. The government at the time prepared for the strike and prepared to provoke the strike right before it was elected – it was their big idea to crush communities all over the country, communities of decent working men and women who were demonized in the press and were invented as actual enemies of the state… which now sounds extraordinary and weird, but that’s what they did. And they took away their houses, they defaulted on their mortgages, they bogusly criminalized them. I remember footage of convoys of police being bused to districts where they wouldn’t be familiar with the people they were fighting so there weren’t any mixed emotions.
It was largely, almost entirely, misreported at the time so you never got sense out of anyone. There was huge support among regular people for the minors, and lots of people collected money and there was benefits and concerts put on for their behalf… and Margaret Thatcher once famously described the trade union movement by asking a question, she said, “When a body has cancer, what do you do? You remove the cancer so the rest of the body can thrive.” She was referring to the trade union movement, which I’d always imagined was one of our greatest contributions to the world, along with the National Health Service.
The gay and lesbian community sympathizing with the minors, and vice-versa, made perfect sense because of the treatment they both faced. And the shadow of Margaret Thatcher certainly looms over all of this…
Bill Nighy: The whole experience of being gay in 1984, it’s bizarre. I find any level of homophobia mystifying. I mean, I can work out certain things, but in the end I just don’t get why anyone would concern themselves with what anybody else did in that area. I just don’t get it. And then to organize to try to prevent them from doing it… that’s like sci-fi to me. It’s like when you hear about atrocities in the world, you think maybe they’re another species. I don’t understand that kind of thing. It’s bonkers. And I was not an enthusiast for Margaret Thatcher or her government or her policies, to put it mildly (laughs), and neither was anybody I knew. I didn’t move in those circles. But it is quite extraordinary how in certain circles she is still revered and missed, which I find a little confusing, to be honest. But there you are.
They brutalized these people, therefore, to find a script that treated those men and women and that community with dignity and respect, that was a long time coming. It was well overdue and it was a huge relief to read this script – and on top of that it was hilarious.
Margaret Thatcher famously said something along the lines of, “There’s no such thing a society, there’s only individuals.” And something that really moved me watching ‘Pride’ was seeing the antithesis of that.
Bill Nighy: Yeah, and I think that’s wonderful and true. I think there are many examples of that all over the country with regular people, and that was one of Margaret Thatcher’s most terrible remarks, there’s no question about that. It’s an extreme remark and it didnt hang then and doesn’t hang now. She once apparently said, “People accuse me of not knowing about the working class, when in fact every day on my way to school I walked through their streets”, and that was another one of her famous remarks. It was grim time to be in Great Britain, the Thatcher years. I used to apologize to anyone who came from overseas (laughs).
It’s obvious you’re incredibly passionate about this film….
Bill Nighy: I think it’s one of the most, if not the most important British film of recent years, I really do. I believe that to be true, and it’s also hilarious – so the whole package was irresistible, and I would have done anything to be in it…. well, almost anything (laughs). And it’s amazing that so many don’t know this story – I didn’t know about this specific story, and when I asked people I knew they didn’t know of it either. It’s such an extraordinary tale. And my character, Cliff, he was a minor, and he helped bring the two groups together. He had a great literary enthusiasm and was enormously well read, as were a lot of that community – they had these huge libraries that were provided to them by the minors union. He’s a very decent bloke and I loved playing this part.
While I found ‘Pride’ incredibly moving and inspiring, it’s also hilarious. Was that ever a worry going into it, finding a balance and the right approach to the humor?
Bill Nighy: I remember talking to director Matthew Warchus early on when I got the script, and a concern I had was that I didn’t want to end up in a “comedy” – and I didn’t want people trying to make a name of themselves. There’s a way of acting I admire, which is where there’s a total absence of careerism, which is hard – everyone’s got to make their way in the world, so it’s tough sometimes. And I suppose if I have a measure or a rule, the idea is to act without having an eye on the clock, as it where. And the thing I love most is “undercover comedy”, which is where you don’t get caught attempting to be funny. They’re attempting to be funny, but nobody gets caught (laughs). That’s what I love beyond anything else… and if people want to come on “being funny”, I just want to jump off a cliff most of the time. I had that conversation with Matthew and I could tell from about six sentences that he had the same phobia, so that was reassuring and it worked out that way for sure.
What was it like finding the accent?
Bill Nighy: That was a lot of fun. I went down early with a tape recorder and had some very funny times in pubs with my tape-recorder. The guys would read the lines into the tape-recorder. It was good fun, and one of the guys had been in the pit for 20 years and he was around at that time. He said that other people came and went, “But those guys, they never missed a week, they always came.”