Fine actor though he is, and probably a really nice man too, “Bill Nighy” is a name that tends to make me avoid films. “British comedy” is also a term of which to be wary. This film, however, has had such good reviews and is on a subject of such interest that I had little option but to give it a try.
Based on a true stories, with most of the characters except the lead based on real people, it tells the tale of a London-based Gay and Lesbian group who decided, unprompted, that the miners’ strike of 1984-85 was their struggle too, both groups being vilified and victimised by the Thatcher government, the police and a hostile press. After collecting money, they contact the National Union of Miners to try and donate it but are rebuffed as soon as they announce their group’s name, “Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners”. Bypassing the national organisation, they contact a local organisation directly and, very soon, a representative of thelocal committee, Dai (Paddy Considine), turns up to talk to them. It transpires that the donation was accepted without anyone really understanding who “LGSM” actually were, the message being taken somewhat amateurishly. Dai is a little unsettled, being out of his comfort zone, but soon realises the group, led by the charismatic and politically driven Mark (Ben Schnetzer), are both serious and passionate and agrees to take the donation and invite the group back to the village, Onllwyn,in order to be officially thanked.
Of course, this is where the potential for culture clash arises, with the ultra-working class miners not expected to take too well to the ‘out and proud’ community group, the most ‘flamboyant’ of them specifically warned to tone down his behaviour.
Our ‘in’ to this world is a fictional addition, Joe (Dominic West), a still closeted young man who attends a gay pride march, worried that he might be noticed. and finds himself roped into Mark’s new campaign almost accidentally – we see both the gay and mining communities through his eyes, as an outsider. The Welsh mining community is sympathetically and interestingly portrayed, with a range of characters coming to terms with their new allies, future MP Sian James (Jessica Gunning ), village leader Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and, yes, Cliff (that man Bill Nighy) principal among them. One slight disappointment was the portrayal of the ‘villains’, the bigots. I can’t quite describe what seemed wrong; they were given a kind of ‘justification’, and their behaviours and beliefs are, to me, pretty rotten, but they still came across as a little pantomime, a bit too easy to dismiss as ‘bad’uns’. Still, I can’t think of any way to improve on how they were portrayed and I don’t think they were really done an injustice.
Despite the failure of both LGSM and the miners to achieve their stated aim of winning the strike, the film nonetheless manages an upbeat finale, with real historical victories proving, as Billy Bragg sings, that “There is Power in a Union” indeed.