IT TAKES A VILLAGE PEOPLE: Movie reviews of Pride and Lilting by Howard Casner

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pride-moviePride, or as I call it, the next working class movie from England that will be adapted into a Broadway musical (following in the proud footsteps—and in one case, high heeled shoes—of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Kinky Boots—in fact, one of the movies major faults is that you keep expecting everyone to suddenly break out into song and dance and are constantly disappointed when they don’t), is the new film from writer Stephen Beresford and director Matthew Marchus.

It’s one of those based on a true story stories and is about a group of gay activists who decide to help striking miners in Wales in 1984. Why? Well, why the hell not, is what I say.

The reasons are never quite as clearly delineated as one may want, but in many ways it seems that the central character, Mark, a proud socialist (or maybe even Communist—something you could actually be in England at the time and get away with) is looking for a new cause, any cause, to call attention to gay awareness and maybe, if truth be told, to himself as a leader, and has a sudden road to Damascus revelation.


Yeah, it’s a bit dodgy, but Mark does make one prescient observation: raids on gay bars and persecution of homosexuals by the police are way down. The reason one might ask? Because Margaret Thatcher is sending all non-essential law enforcement personnel north to help defeat the striking miners.


Mark manages to bulldoze his rag tag group of trusted followers into doing what he wants, including a young man Joe (played perkily by George Mckay and who may look a bit too much like Ron Weasley for his own good) who is coming out of the closet to everyone but his family and who, at age 20, is still not legal when it comes to having sex with a man (for straights the age of consent was 16; for gays, 21).


Misunderstandings, mishaps and farcical situations ensue as the two oil and water factions intermingle and learn to trust one another.


Did you expect any different?


Pride is a feel good film that, surprisingly, actually makes you feel good. I mean, this is not as easy an achievement as one might think. Most feel good movies send me scrambling for the bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet, but the English, God bless ‘em, just seem to have a knack for it.


I mean, I’m not saying that Pride, or any of these films, are great or will appear on the Cashiers de Cinema list in the near future (or ever). There are no surprises here and everything works out pretty much the way things usually do in movies like this.


But still, there is something about these films and the way the Brits make ‘em that help, no, forces you to feel better about life. Dreams are achievable, they seem to say; there is a possibility of standing up to adversity; and, if not winning, at least snatching personal worth from the jaws of defeat.


And in the end, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry, and you’ll cry some more, especially during the scene where one of the Welsh women stands up and sings Bread and Roses, with the rest of the miners joining in (it’s a devastating moment) and then you’ll laugh some more and walk out of the theater holding your head up a few inches higher.


But Pride is also a film about the working class, another genre of film that the British just seem to have a natural ability to make work.   It’s not just the films already mentioned, the ones that have moved to the Great White Way, but also movies like Made in Dagenham and One Chance.


Not so in the U.S. where for some reason the working class is something most people would rather be seen and not heard. Actually, in the U.S., one gets the feeling that most people here would just like them all to go away—except that deep in their hearts, they know the working class is needed.


And when Hollywood dramatize the lives of the laborer, we often take the angle that they are victims, not of the government and big business, but of a corrupt union (On the Waterfront and Blue Collar). We’ve done a bit better on television with such comedies as The Honeymooners, All in the Family and Roseanne, but movies not so much.


However, in England, at least on film, there has been a resurgence of movies about the working class and unions. Maybe it’s part nostalgia; maybe it’s a bunch of artists who have had it up to here with recent government policies; maybe it’s a dearth of source material for musicals, but at least they are taking this section of society seriously.


Pride’s cast is made up of the usual suspects like Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton who do their usual bits. I always like Nighy even if he always is Nighy (I mean, no one can do Nighy like Nighy can).


Ben Schnetzer plays Mark with all the sharpness and intensity of his hairstyle and fashion sense. His performance bulldozes over you the way his character bulldozes over the others.


But perhaps the best performances are given in a few of the supporting roles. Paddy Considine (of The Bourne Ultimatum and In America) is Dai, a union rep who comes to London to thank Mark and the others for the money they have raised, not knowing that the “L” in LGBT meant Lesbian rather than London. He gives an impromptu speech at a drag club that is far wittier and more relaxed than the one Mark gives when the troupe makes their way to Wales.


More touching perhaps are Andrew Scott (Sherlock Holmes’ memorable Moriarty) as Gethin, a melancholy bookstore owner, and Dominic West as Jonathan, his lover, a burnt out drag queen, both of whom find new meaning in life by joining a losing cause (West does a wicked dance in an attempt to get the party started).


(Jonathan is the second person in England to be diagnosed as being HIV+. He is still alive today, while Mark died from complications related to AIDS at age 26, a year after the events of this film.)


With Russell (Looking, Being Human) Tovey of the beautiful Clark Gable ears as Mark’s ex-lover and harbinger of death. He’s quite haunting in a brief role.


liltingMeanwhile, also in London, but in present day, is Lilting, writer/director Hong Khaou’s first full length film. It’s a movie that for some reason feels exactly like its title—a story with a rhythmic swing and cadence. Or maybe it’s supposed to be ironic since “lilting” also means cheerful and buoyant, which the movie is anything but.


The basic premise is that Junn, a Cambodian woman who can no longer take care of herself, has been moved by her son Kai into a home. Kai always intended to move Junn in with him and his lover Richard, but on the day that Kai was to tell his mother that he is gay, he dies in a traffic accident. Now Richard must struggle with how to help Junn, but language barriers (Junn speaks no English and Richard hardly any Chinese) and Junn not knowing the truth about Kai and Richard’s relationship intervene.


Lilting is a lovely movie crammed with tension from the opening scene. It’s a chamber piece, emotionally rich, and delicately acted. The story telling is riveting as the two characters struggle to reach a sort of connection, though the ending is ambiguous.


Junn is played by Pei-pei Cheng, Jade Fox of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She has a constant look of panic in her eyes whenever Richard is around, probably because she knows what is really going on without realizing or willing to admit that she knows what is really going on.


Ben Whishaw, of the television series The Hour and multi-part movie Cloud Atlas, plays Richard. He seems born to play roles like this, where the character is in a constant state of self doubt and suffering. His eyes are what is called soulful.


Peter Bowles, who dates back at least to 1966’s Blow Up and had memorable turns in such TV series as Rumpole of the Bailey and To the Manor Born, plays Alan, a gentlemen caller of Junn who lives in the same home. And Naomi Christie has her first movie role as Vann, who translates for Richard and Alan.


These two characters lead to some awkward, even slightly clunky scenes at times. At one point, Richard tells Junn he wants to help her get out of this awful place she’s in, while at the same time trying to encourage Alan’s courtship, which would only encourage her to stay. The result were some arguments that I have to admit I didn’t always understand.


But Bowles and Christie give solid and empathetic performances, and it must be said that Khaou does one thing quite well: many of the scenes require the character of Vann to constantly translate, which means that much of the dialog is repeated twice. Khaou actually gets away with this without making it boring.


It also leads to an interesting finale where Junn and Richard are talking to each other in their own language, finally connecting, while at the same time not really understanding what each other is saying. It’s an interesting scene that is rather moving in many ways, and is very reminiscent of E.M. Forster whose themes often revolved around the idea of “only connect”.


With Andrew Leung as Kai.



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