Sally Hall: Film of British working class struggle moved me to tears

How a group of gay and lesbian supporters of the miners' strike overcame prejudice.
How a group of gay and lesbian supporters of the miners' strike overcame prejudice.
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The pack of emergency tissues I keep in my bag came in very handy the other day.

I’d fancied seeing the film Pride, but my expectations were fairly low.

Usually I find British comedies like Brassed Off and Billy Elliott enjoyable but overly mawkish and cheesy.

But I came out of Pride chastising myself for my knee-jerk customary cynicism, and determined to embrace the cheddar in life more wholeheartedly from now on.

Pride is based on the true story of an unlikely alliance between oppressed groups in the mid-Eighties.

When a campaigning collective of gay men and lesbians attempted to support striking miners in 1984, they struggled to pass on the money they’d raised.

Afraid to be associated with a group their working class male members might find threatening and transgressive, the National Union of Mineworkers initially refused any association with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.

So the campaigners went straight to the miners themselves, forging a link with a tiny mining village in the Welsh valleys that strengthened over the long months of the strike.

I won’t spoil the story by giving away the ending – but let’s say prejudices were overcome and solidarity achieved, at least in part through the power of disco dancing.

So many aspects of this film resonated with me.

Its period details were perfectly judged, from the old-style £5 notes and perma-fug of cigarettes, to the authentic horror of the miners’ Eighties décor.

It’s easy to laugh at the brown flowery wallpaper and fag-stained banquet seating in the Miners’ Welfare club.

Thirty years later (gulp), we live in a better-looking world, surrounded by nicer things.

But at what cost?

I remember the Eighties as a time of heady political activism. In Margaret Thatcher the Left had an opponent to reckon with; her very divisiveness galvanised opposition from all directions.

Disparate groups of oppressed people were finding a voice and standing up for their right to live without hate and discrimination – women, disabled people, gay men…and miners.

The miners’ year-long strike was the ultimate crucible for social change.

Some transformations were progressive - women taking on leadership roles in deeply patriarchal mining communities, men experiencing a more equitable family life, the move to a less combative model of industrial relations, the development of an energy industry less reliant on fossil fuels – and the heartening unity of unlikely communities (as depicted in Pride).

But entire ways of life were also destroyed, whole generations who never regained either the work or vanished sense of community they lost.

Britain’s manufacturing industry and the trades union movement also never recovered from the fallout of Mrs Thatcher’s battle with Arthur Scargill.

I felt moved by the images of solidarity in the film – but what really made me cry was what’s been lost.

We live in a society now where difference is once again demonised. Disabled people are ‘scroungers’. Asylum seekers are after ‘a handout’. People on low incomes who can’t afford their ‘extra’ bedroom are ‘benefits cheats’.

Everywhere I look, I see people accepting this rhetoric without question. We don’t even notice how divisive it is.

My tears were for the long-gone sense of hope and togetherness depicted in the film.

We’re all more cynical, more sophisticated now.

But what have we lost along the way?

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