In general, British movies don't have the same streak of sentimentality that American movies do. Their World War Two films like Mrs. Miniver were grounded in unpleasant truths in a way that American movies from the same time weren't. When you think about their great directors, names like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean come up - men who made great films, but who certainly had a cynical streak. Yes, Brits do make escapist fare, but the various Dickens adaptions and Harry Potter movies all have intense moments of darkness, and they tend to end on bittersweet moments, because even though the good guys win in the end, many of their friends fell by the wayside.
That's why it's such a shame that Pride, which is a movie from the U.K., has such a sentimental streak in it. Pride is based on a true story of a gay rights group that decided to join forces with some striking miners in Thatcher era England. The two groups were not natural bedfellows - in fact, the miners were so homophobic that they initially refused to take the money that the "poofs" had raised - but eventually, the two groups overlook their differences, realizing that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. This being a movie, important lessons are quickly learned, and then it ends with both groups marching in a victorious parade over the river Thames, theoretically happily ever after.
The film's upbeat tone makes no sense for the story it's telling. The miners are a down trodden lot, barely eking out a living by doing dirty work that's slowly killing them. The homosexuals aren't in any better of a position: they've faced centuries of persecution with no clear respite on the horizon, plus the AIDS crisis is about to hit. I could forgive a few upbeat moments when the two groups were forging a brotherhood, but the film is relentlessly saccharine, implying from the very beginning that these two mismatched teams were destined to unite - which cannot have been the way the story really happened.
It's a shame, because the source material had such real promise. Both the miners and the gay rights groups were at pivotal moments in their histories, as Britain's industrial class was disappearing and as homosexuality was slowing starting to get normalized. Either group would make for an interesting portrait - provided that it was grounded in the real details of their existence. But instead of taking us inside their psyches and daily lives, the film stages goofy scenes where the miners' wives get dragged out to the gay discos and dance. That sort of silly fish-out-of-water scene is pure Hollywood cheese, and it made me miss the well observed grit of classic British films like Hope and Glory.
I suspect that the reason why this film comes across as being so sanitized is because it didn't want to make the miners look bad, not even at the beginning of their relationship with the gay rights group, before they had found common ground. Pride whitewashes their behavior, which is bad in that it seems historically inaccurate for them to all have modern views on homosexuality, but also because it really limits how far the miners can grow over the course of the movie. It doesn't have enough moral ambiguity to understand that good people can have misguided views, or that people can grow out of their unexamined ingrained beliefs - it wants us to believe that these people were open hearted saints, when they had to have been mere people.
Pride's desperate need to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy had the opposite effect on me - it made me actively sad. It felt like such an American movie, moving through it's broad story beats with a saccharine efficiency, and the idea that our cultural ideas are infecting Britain is dispiriting to me. I don't always prefer the ingrained cynicism of British films, but I certainly prefer it to this hogwash.