The miners strike in the UK 1984, a polarising event creating deep divisions within UK society, many of which never fully healed.
Wales was particularly hard hit, with many small towns reliant solely on the pit for employment and the spirit of community engendered by the close knit workforce.
Many saw the miners as victims of an uncaring Conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher deploying a police force fuelled by lucrative overtime, to further political ambition. Equally the mainstream middle-class press portrayed the miners in unflattering terms, a battle between good and evil on both sides.
Remaining on strike for nearly a year, miners were reliant on the goodwill of others to survive.
However such help was in short supply, yet support did also come from an unlikely source. A Gay and Lesbian London based group of friends, decided they want to help by raising money. They knew what it felt like to be persecuted and marginalised and they wanted to pitch in.
Flamboyant Jonathan (Dominic West) and his partner Gethin (Andrew Scott), together with Mark (Ben Schentzer), Steph (Faye Marsay) and an eclectic group, raise money for the miners. However once the collection tins are full, they cannot find a deserving and willing village to take it off their hands, once their “orientation” is known.
Into the mix and acting as a handy audience viewpoint, is twenty year old closet gay lad Joe aka “Bromley” (George Mackay). Joe joins his first “Gay Pride” march and is understandably hesitant about holding a banner and being noticed.
Eventually the group decide they will visit the eventual recipients of their hard work, as they are invited to Onllwyn in Wales, to receive thanks from the community. Bearing in mind this is 1984, the culture clash depicted here and in reality would have been enormous.
The film treats it’s subject with great care, restraint and yet manages to tread a fine line between comedy, tragedy and realism. The Welsh contingent led by Dai (Paddy Considine), Hefina (Imelda Staunton), Cliff (Bill Nighy) and Sian (Jessica Gunning) all come across as believable characters. Initially sceptical, yet willing to find common ground and shared humanity, whilst others remain blinkered, with prejudice firmly in place.
All the cast are excellent, Andrew Scott’s reaction to hearing a Welsh voice again, whilst realising what he left behind, may find you checking for the dust speck in your eye. Nighy is understated yet manages to make a mark, buttering sandwiches with the always brilliant Staunton, a beautifully played scene. George Mackay also deserves mention for his portrayal of someone trapped in a time and place that refuses to acknowledge his nascent feelings.
The film is ultimately about acceptance, tolerance and taking chances by finding people as they are, not how you expect them to be. The film is based on a true story, albeit augmented with the usual artistic licence. Whether the story and setting will be too parochial for a international audience remains to be seen.
The world has moved on of course, in parts this is a glimpse into a period of life that should remain just that, in the past. But for those that were there, the TV, outfits, music and general media and public attitude is a real blast from the past, whatever your background.
Like “Billy Elliott” and “The Full Monty” before, this is a highly enjoyable film, with humour, pathos, far better acting than you expect and ultimately an uplifting yet realistic view of the world.
Not the full on comedy the trailer might suggest, with the screenplay and director deciding to play the story for real, the film is better for that decision.