striking a blow for the miners and melting the hardest heart
PRIDE Drama. Starring Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, George Mackay, Joseph Gilgun, Ben Schnetzer. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Cert 12A
In recent years it's become all too apparent that the Miners' Strike was arguably the most cataclysmic event in British history since the Second World War. The face-off between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill set the template for a Britain that was changed for ever. So, with the 30th anniversary of the National Union of Miners walking out of their collieries taking place earlier this year the release of Pride is extremely appropriate.
The specific, nuts and bolts aspects of a long and bitter conflict are probably best left to documentarians, so what screenwriter Stephen Beresford has wisely chosen to do is focus on one small part of the struggle and that way give us an insight into how people's lives were affected. This has worked well in the past, most notably with the wonderful Billy Elliot and Brassed Off, and Pride can certainly hold its head up in that company.
Beresford's interest was initially piqued by a short documentary clip he saw in which a small London solidarity group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), were dancing away at a social club in the small Welsh village of Onllwyn. On investigating the episode further, he uncovered the events which largely go to make up this uplifting and heartwarming story.
The tale begins with a closeted young man, Joe (George Mackay), sheepishly taking part in a Gay Pride march in 1984 and becoming drawn into an activist group headed by the militant Mike (Joseph Gilgun) and a young firebrand from Northern Ireland, Mark (American actor Ben Schnetzer affecting a spot-on accent). Joe is one of only a handful of fictional characters here, but his presence draws the audience into proceedings as the group realise that, like themselves, the miners are a target for Thatcher, the tabloids and the police and so LGSM is formed.
Picking a pit village in Wales at random, they contact local union leader Dai (Paddy Considine) and offer their moral and financial support. Naturally, there is some local opposition to the group's help, which sets the scene for a tense encounter when LGSM first turn up in Onllwyn and appear almost as aliens to the locals. However, with the help of Dai, the elderly Cliff (Bill Nighy) and formidable matriarch Helena (Imelda Staunton) the ice melts and barriers are bridged.
Director Matthew Warchus has a difficult balancing act to manage but he largely succeeds. Of course there's a serious political undercurrent to proceedings but were he to lay this on too thickly he'd run the risk of Pride becoming too polemical. However, go the other way and present a jaunty culture clash comedy and he risks making light of a serious subject. Thankfully, he juggles both aspects of the story perfectly. It certainly helps that such a fine ensemble cast really throw themselves into things, not least Dominic West as the flamboyant actor Jonathan, who gets to display some very impressive disco moves in one of the film's standout scenes.
Pride closes with a sequence which will melt even the hardest heart, particularly poignant being the credits detailing what became of the real-life characters in the film. A fine film which both entertains and makes you think.
IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE
Thriller. Starring Stellan Skarsgaard, Bruno Ganz, Pal Sverre Hagen, Jakob Offebro, Brigitte Hjort Sorensen. Directed by Hans Petter Moland. Cert 16
For a region more usually associated with brooding melodramas, Scandinavian cinema can frequently surprise us by suddenly serving up dollops of seriously dark humour and that's certainly the case with In Order of Disappearance. Perhaps the giveaway lies in its original title, The Prize Idiot, but as the film starts out you'd certainly imagine that you're in for the kind of Scandi noir we've come to expect from TV series such as The Killing, The Bridge and Wallander.
At the outset we see Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgaard), a Swede working in Norway as a snowplough driver, receive his 'Citizen of the Year' award only to have his subsequent celebrations ruined when his son turns up dead of an apparent drugs overdose. Shattered by the event, Nils is about to commit suicide when a friend of his son emerges to inform him that, in fact, he'd been killed by a criminal gang cleaning up their mess after a deal had gone sour.
Determined to avenge his son's death, Nils sets off on a (very) bloody and vengeful path, sparing no-one in his quest for justice. At this point the film appears to a graphic take on the Death Wish school of action thriller but it soon becomes apparent that director Hans Petter Moland is underscoring the whole thing with a blackly comic undercurrent, not least when we're introduced to the vicious gang leader - and ardent vegan - The Count (Pal Sverre Hagen), a cackling psychopath whose behaviour becomes increasingly manic. And that's even before the Serb gangsters arrive, led by Papa (Bruno Ganz) and boasting several gang members who are little more than big children, albeit children armed with automatic weapons and with a penchant for torture.
At times the jokey dialogue is a tad too Tarantinoesque but, for all that, In Order of Disappearance is a hugely enjoyable slice of knockabout, gory fun.
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
Documentary/fantasy. Featuring Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Darian Leader. Directed by Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Cert 15A
Given that fans of his music frequently espouse its cinematic nature and, of course, the fact that he's written acclaimed screenplays for The Road, The Proposition and Lawless it shouldn't come as too much of a shock to discover that a documentary about Nick Cave wouldn't be exactly straightforward. What Cave and co-directors Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard have done here is to blend the kind of things you'd expect to see in a regular documentary - recording sessions and live performances - with a very arty and arch concept about the 'idea' of the central subject.
Thus we have Cave being interviewed by Freudian analyst Darian Leader, musing on his impulses to write and, most bizarrely, taking a car journey where passengers suddenly appear in the shape of Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone and former Bad Seeds guitarist Blixa Bargeld. On an ambition level it's hard not to admire 20,000 Days on Earth in attempting to do something different with a tried and tested formula, but the problem comes when seriously high falutin' theories are applied to music which essentially boils down to tired old blues riffs with a load of pseudo-Biblical codswallop crooned portentiously over the top. One for hardcore Cave fans only.
MANUSCRIPTS DON'T BURN
Drama. Cast and crew uncredited. Directed by Mohammad Rasoulf. Cert IFI
Shot on the hoof in Tehran and the neighbouring countryside, Mohammad Rasoulf's intriguing drama deals with the subject of state censorship, clearly a very serious subject given that cast and crew haven't been named in credits. The story surrounds an impoverished government assassin tasked with breaking up a group of intellectuals who've threatened to publish an embarrassing memoir. Tense hardly begins to describe the atmosphere of the film, particularly given the circumstances surrounding its making.