Between the Lines is a monthly column discussing everything around the craft of screenwriting: from in-depth breakdowns of screenplays to interviews with screenwriters.
Queer representation on-screen still needs to drastically improve. The GLAAD Media institute — a media monitoring organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+ people — found that only 22 out of 118 major studio films in 2019 featured characters who identify as LGBTQ+. And apparently, that was an improvement from the year before. It can quickly become exhausting for queer people to see similarly dire figures when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, and even more exhausting when a lot of these inclusive films are serious dramas. God’s Own Country, Brokeback Mountain, and Water Lilies are fantastic and important queer films. However, LGBTQ+ audiences sometimes want more light-hearted stories — like 2014’s Pride, written by Stephen Beresford.
The BAFTA-winning film is based on the true story of lesbian and gay activists who struck up an unlikely friendship with the miners on strike in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) leads the young activists of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group, who eventually partner up with a mining village in rural South Wales. Beresford’s smartest decision with the screenplay is making Pride a mainstream comedy aimed at being as entertaining as possible. It could have very easily been a straight-faced drama or a hard-hitting documentary, but the comedic spin and loveable cast helps pull the reader in and invest in what Beresford is trying to say with the script.
Beresford uses the opening five pages to establish a few of the central characters, but also establishes the tone of the screenplay as Mark makes his way to the Gay Pride March to meet the others:
The old man is a stark reminder of how some people viewed and treated queer people back in the 1980’s (and continue to do so even today), with the AIDS epidemic and lack of LGBTQ+ rights. Mark’s sexuality is such a concern to the old man, who threatens him with authoritative powers, but he isn’t even remotely threatened by such a serious remark. Mark shrugs off the old man’s first comment with a sarcastic joke, then doesn’t even give the old man his full attention – turning his back to the old man as he fires back another comedic response. Beresford strikes a balance between comedy and the harsh realities these characters face, which gives Mark power over his adversary without downplaying the horrible situations he has to deal with.
After establishing the LGSM group, Beresford swiftly begins introducing the rest of the ensemble – the miners from South Wales. Like Mark, their spokesperson Dai (Paddy Considine) is somewhat the leader of the miners who accept support from LGSM. Dai meets LGSM in London to personally thank the group, and ends up on stage in a gay pub to thank the whole community:
Whilst slightly on the nose, Dai’s speech hammers home the theme of the story: banding together in the face of a greater enemy. There’s something rather clever about having this kind of speech only 22 pages into the screenplay, as usually it would be placed at the end of the script to tie things up. In this particular narrative however, one person understanding the moral of the story isn’t enough. Pride is very much about community and how a large group of people need to come together in solidarity to overcome their shared adversary, so the reader knows that the unfolding narrative isn’t going to be about one person siding with LGSM, but in fact a whole community of miners made up of individual characters.
Of course, the road to achieving a true partnership between LGSM and the miners is full of ups and downs, and with the film’s tone established early on, we know that they will come together. But towards the end of the screenplay — as in most good screenplays — the characters reach their lowest lows before the climax. It would have been easy to make some of the third act confrontations melodramatic, but Beresford thankfully opts to go the quieter route, as seen when Joe’s (George MacKay) parents find out he is gay:
A lot of writers would have been tempted to viscerally show exactly what Joe’s dad shouts at his son, but the lack of dialogue and the distance created in the scene imply that it’s actually too painful to witness. Readers don’t need to know the exact details as Beresford illustrates the scene with simple but effective action lines – anything more than that would make the abuse of a gay man exploitative.
The ups and downs and trials and tribulations all lead to an extremely satisfying conclusion. While LGSM and the miners may not take down Thatcher and her government or radically change society, they achieve what they need to by supporting each other and striking a meaningful friendship. Pride comes full circle, ending on another parade, and re-establishes its core theme:
Again, it’s very on the nose but the screenplay more than earns it. The comedy and likeable characters make Pride an easy read that reels you in, but the very real obstacles the cast face are honest, making the overall story sincere and not at all pandering. The screenplay relies heavily on the ensemble cast, with each individual having their moments to shine, but there are also some cleverly subtle action lines to create impact with the more dramatic moments. Beresford has crafted a crowd-pleasing narrative that has wit, sincerity, and a big queer heart.
The Pride screenplay can be read here.
Header image courtesy of 20th Century Fox