New Brit-flick Pride, which opens in cinemas next week, is shaping up to be this year’s big home-grown crowd-pleaser — sashaying in the footsteps of movies like Billy Elliot and The Full Monty. And its screenwriter, Stephen Beresford, seems to be equally charmed. His first play The Last of the Haussmans managed to lure Julie Walters back to the stage for the first time in 12 years. Now, his debut feature film has proved similarly magnetic, attracting high-calibre stars like Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Andrew Scott and Dominic West (cast here about as far from his Baltimore cop in The Wire as you can possibly imagine).
Pride tells the true — and very funny — story of an unlikely alliance between LGBT campaigners in London and a conservative Welsh village during the Miner’s Strike in 1984. Here Stephen Beresford discusses the story behind the story.
How did you attract such a starry cast?
There were lots of things, but I think in the end it was this great story they wanted to be a part of. It’s interesting because you don’t have a big star part in the film, but lots of great smaller roles. It’s an ensemble really with this incredible cast all being, in a way, underused. We were lucky they wanted to come.
And why did you want to tell this story in particular?
It came out of an argument I had twenty years ago when I was twenty — a discussion about whether or not gay people were political anymore. It was in the mid-1990s, during the second round of pit closures, and we were talking about whether the gay community should support the miners. I said, why should I support the miners, they don’t support me? And the person I was arguing with said, well let me tell you a story… And the minute I heard it, I thought wow. It totally changed my outlook.
Was it easy to get the film made?
Very hard and very slow. I would tell people the idea and hawk it around like a hooker saying I’ve got this amazing story and people would go: gays, lesbians, trade unionism? No. They’d say, why don’t you do a drama-documentary or do it on the radio? And I always thought — no, this is a massive mainstream movie, it’s got to be that or nothing.
Why does it particularly suit the big screen?
I think people are hungry for stories where people help each other, where you see solidarity and community, which are two things that have sort of vanished. They still exist but they aren’t fashionable anymore. We don’t refer to them much, particularly those of us who live in London. We’ve got our friends and colleagues and our families and that’s about it. And there’s no reason why that should be the case.
Both the Welsh and the gay community in the film are celebrated, and your first play was also about family. Why is the idea important to you?
I’m very interested in how people interact in those groups — in families and communities, I find it fascinating. And I absolutely love bad behaviour and you don’t get any worse behaviour than when people are in groups like that.
In the film you are quite sympathetic to all sides — who is the villain of the piece?
The Welsh were pretty swift on the uptake, but there were elements of the community that refused to join in. It’s very difficult with prejudice, because you try to make it nuanced, but what you discover is that prejudice is never nuanced. There is no nuance to racism for example, so you can’t make it a sophisticated position. It’s blunt and it’s brutal and it’s stupid. And there ain't no way of changing that.
The film is partly set in Soho. What were your first experiences of the area?
I was born in London and my parents came here a lot because my dad spent a lot of time in George Raft’s Colony Club. So I grew up with a strong relationship to London. I’m always impressed that we can live side-by-side so successfully. And although there are areas of tension and things that can be improved, I think we should be very proud as Londoners of having an incredible community of people from all over the world. I love living here and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Do you see a big difference between the Soho in the film — of Thatcher and the 1980s — with what we see today?
Oh yeah — in a way there are good and bad things about both. I think Soho in the 80s was a sleazier affair, but there was some wonderful stuff going on. And the gay scene then was perhaps less commercial. But we shouldn’t be those people who say it was all better in the past, it wasn’t. Now we have gay bars with big windows that no-one worries about having a brick thrown through.
You said the idea for Pride started with an argument about whether gay people were political enough. Are they?
Well, we’ve got full equality under the law which is what everybody fought for, so we are in a much, much better place. It’s easy to say gay men should be more political but in a way, what everyone has been fighting for is for them to be less political, because what we want is a world where being gay is totally unremarkable. And when a Conservative prime minister flies a rainbow flag over the cabinet office on the day equal marriage is made law, that is an extraordinary thing to be happening.
So have we ‘got over it’ as a society?
There is still work to do because there is still prejudice. I used to think we were heading in this great direction upwards towards some golden plain of equality and tolerance and of course that isn’t the case: history goes like that [up and down]. And although we have full equality under the law I am staggered that kids on Facebook are still saying something is gay as a pejorative term. I find that shocking. And it’s not just kids: people with gay friends, friends of mine, they’ll write something is ‘gay’ and I think stop that because a gay person is gonna slap you — and it might just be me.
What are your favourite places in London?
So many, I cannot begin to tell you. I love the city so much. I love Exmouth Market, I love London squares, I love Postman’s Park and the Sir John Soane Museum. There are too many.
Do you have any pet hates about the city?
There is only one: please people: stand on the right. It’s all we ask, you’re welcome to come to London, but please… stand on the right.
Pride is released on 12 September in cinemas across London and beyond (including Wales).