In my post two days ago, on French trade unions and strikes, I had occasion to mention—twice—the British coal miners strike of 1984-85. This naturally reminded me of the film ‘Pride’, which I saw at the cinoche back in fall 2014 but didn’t get around to writing a post on. Did anyone not like this movie? Was it even possible not to like it? It was certainly the most heartwarming, feel-good movie of that year, no doubt about it. Not even a die-hard Thatcherite would disagree.
If one doesn’t know the pic, it’s based on a true story from 1984-85, when a group of gauchiste gays and lesbians in London formed an association, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, to raise money and collect food for the strikers, that being a gauchiste thing to do back then. As they couldn’t just send the money to the miners union (NUM)—PM Thatcher having ordered the sequestering of the NUM’s funds—the gays and lesbians had to take it directly to the miners themselves, to the Welsh mining town Onllwyn. And so they did.
Talk about a clash of cultures: of London LGBTs—who had never seen a coal miner in their lives or been anywhere near Welsh coal mining country—and those in Onllwyn, who were, needless to say, not even aware of the existence of LGBT activists and had never encountered anyone in their lives who admitted to being homosexual, not to mention one from London (or anyone from London for that matter). That the striking miners and their entourages would initially view the gays from London with circumspection goes without saying, though not all did. The barriers eventually did fall and with solidarity prevailing, bien évidemment, though this wasn’t just for the movies. It really did happen. On this, the ending scene, of the big 1985 London rally, where miners and LGBTs united in fraternity, will jerk tears of joy in even the most unsentimental Thatcher partisan.
On this level, the film did not overly lay on the ideology or political parti pris, though the latter is clear enough. The name of the NUM’s Stalinist dinosaur leader, Arthur Scargill, was not mentioned once, nor was Margaret Thatcher’s uttered, so far as I recall. The subjects were the miners themselves: the men who stood to lose their jobs and livelihoods, and with their families and community in the same boat. And how could one not sympathize with them? Thatcher may have had the stronger argument in her bras de fer with Scargill, the British coal mining sector may have been structurally unprofitable and with pits destined to close, and with coal mining being a shitty occupation anyway, but still. Once the miners lost their jobs, that was it for them employment-wise. There was nothing else—and certainly not at their union-negotiated wages—and not in their company towns. So it wasn’t just the fate of the individual miners but of families and entire tight-knit communities, of towns where everyone had been born and raised and knew everyone else. If such has been one’s life since birth, to suddenly lose it is just terrible; it is not something that people from the well-to-do classes can easily comprehend.
As cinema—directing, acting, screenplay, all that—the film is good. The director, Matthew Warchus, was unknown to me, as was the cast, Dominic West (McNulty in ‘The Wire’) excepted (he played one of the LGBTs). US reviews were tops, as were French. Trailer is here.
There are several other films from the United Kingdom that I’ve seen over the past couple of years that I haven’t posted on, most of which were very good to excellent. Here are brief mentions of each, in no particular order.
’71, by first-time director Yann Demange. This is a terrific film, making my Top 10 best of 2014 (‘Pride’ was an honorable mention). It’s set in Belfast in 1971, in the early, terrible years of The Troubles. Soldier Gary Hook (actor Jack O’Donnell), who’s part of a British army company staging a raid in the Catholic Falls Road area, gets separated from his men as they hightail it out following a riot—and with Provisional IRA gunmen shooting at them—loses his weapon, and is left behind. So he tries to make his way out of hostile territory, with the Provos hot on his trail—they know he was abandoned by his men—and with discovery and capture meaning certain death, no doubt to be preceded by hideous physical abuse. This sequence, which takes up much of the film, is incredibly riveting and tense. During his escape, Hook—who’s just an ordinary soldier and regular guy—comes into contact with Protestant Loyalists who aren’t totally on the level themselves, is offered protection by a Catholic family—at great risk to their own physical integrity—who want to turn him over to the regular IRA, who won’t kill him, though he would possibly have to worry if he fell into the hands of a secret British counterinsurgency force that is engaging in underhanded actions in the area. In short, Belfast in 1971 was hell. One didn’t know who was who and with cold-blooded killers on all sides. This is one of the best films I’ve seen on urban civil conflict with multiple armed actors. It may be set in Belfast but could be a lot of places. Both US/UK and French reviews were tops. Trailer is here.
‘The Selfish Giant’, by Clio Barnard. This is another terrific film, which opened everywhere in December 2013 and that I saw a few weeks after. I was initially going to skip it and despite the top reviews in both the US/UK and France (titre en France: Le Géant égoïste), plus it being inspired by Oscar Wilde’s children’s short story of the same name, but seeing that my friend Guillaume Duval, the editor-in-chief of Alternatives Économiques, had praised the film to the heavens in a social media post, I decided to see it illico. Here’s a brief description from this website (and with my bracketed additions)
An official selection at the  Cannes Film Festival, The Selfish Giant is a contemporary fable [set among the lower classes in Bradford, in the English Midlands] about 13-year-old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrap dealer [most of the characters in the film are Gypsies]. Wandering their town with just a horse and a cart, they begin collecting scrap metal for him [which mainly involves stealing telephone, railway, and electric power cables and copper wire]. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten – keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. As Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, tensions build, leading to a tragic event that transforms them all.
The two youthful first-time actors, Connor Chapman and Shaun Thomas—who manifestly issue from the couches populaires—are great. Check them out in this short interview. What to say, I really liked this movie and recommend it to all and sundry. Trailer is here.
‘Testament of Youth’, by James Kent (en France: Mémoires de jeunesse). This one I saw more recently, some three months ago. Initially dubious, I was swayed to see it by the positive Allociné audience reviews (invariably more reliable than those of the critics, though these were good too for this one). And I did not regret. I was totally, completely absorbed in and captivated by the film, to the point where it made my Top 10 best of 2015. Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times got it exactly right in his review
From first to last, “Testament of Youth” sweeps you away. Unapologetically emotional and impeccably made in the classic manner, it tells the kind of potent, many-sided story whose unforeseen complexities can come only courtesy of a life that lived them all.
Based on Vera Brittain’s deeply felt 1933 memoir of her World War I experiences, a modern classic that has never gone out of print and kept Virginia Wolfe up all night reading it, “Testament of Youth” is an attempt to write history in terms of personal life that is wrenched out of its author’s very soul. Only that way, Brittain wrote, “could I rescue something that might be of value, some element of truth and hope and usefulness, from the smashing up of my own youth by the War.”
To read the rest of Turan’s review, go here. Vera Brittain is played by Alicia Vikander, who merited an Oscar nomination for her performance. I won’t say anything more about the pic except that I really liked it. It’s top notch entertainment, particularly for those over a certain age. UK/UK reviews were very good on the whole. Trailer is here.
‘Locke’, by Steven Knight. This one, which opened in 2014, I saw a year ago on the small screen. It stars exactly one actor, Tom Hardy—who plays the protag Ivan Locke—and takes place entirely inside a car at night—Locke’s BMW—on the M6 motorway between Birmingham and London, with him at the wheel and talking on the phone. The film is billed a thriller and, believe it or not, it is. Here’s the description from this website
The day before he must supervise a large concrete pour in Birmingham, construction foreman Ivan Locke learns that Bethan, a colleague with whom he had a one-night stand seven months previously, has gone into premature labour. Despite his job responsibilities and although his wife and sons are eagerly awaiting his arrival home to watch an important football match, Locke decides to drive to London to be with Bethan during childbirth. Locke never forgave his father for abandoning him as a child, and he is determined not to make the same mistake.
Over the course of the two-hour drive from Birmingham to London, Locke holds a total of 36 phone calls with his boss and a colleague, Donal, to ensure the pour is successful, with his wife Katrina to confess his infidelity, his son, and with Bethan to reassure her during her labour. During these calls, he is fired from his job, kicked out of his house by his wife, and asked by his older son to return home. He coaches his assistant Donal through preparing the pour despite several major setbacks, and has imaginary conversations with his father, whom he envisions as a passenger in the back seat of his car. When he is close to the hospital, Locke learns of the successful birth of his new baby.
I had no idea this was going to be the film before seeing it, that it would be just a guy talking calmly on his mobile phone while driving his car. And it works. It’s quite a good film and that never loses one’s attention. The family members with whom I saw it agreed. One thing that intrigued me was Locke’s accent, which is British but regional and that I could not identify. A Google search afterward revealed it to be Welsh, but which is not the way Tom Hardy normally speaks. He did it for the movie. US/UK reviews were very good on the whole, French ones not bad. Trailer is here.
‘Snow in Paradise’, by first time director Andrew Hulme. This one I saw last spring. One reviewer called it a “spiritual take on the Cockney gangster pic.” The plot, in a nutshell
Dave’s a petty criminal living on drugs and violence in London. When his actions kill his best friend, he’s propelled into feelings of shame and remorse. Discovering Islam, he begins to find peace but his old life comes back to test him.
It was probably the Islam subplot that piqued my interest in seeing the pic, which was a mistake, as I did not care for it. Every last character is an unsympathetic lowlife and with many of them given over to extreme violence. I’m always game for seeing a good gangster movie but this one wasn’t it. I was not entertained and forgot about it almost as soon as I left the cinoche. US/UK critics, who have given it mixed reviews overall, are clearly on the same wavelength as moi, and while their French critics were more positive, Allociné spectateurs have been less so. If one still has the slightest interest, trailer is here.