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Pride: Not an issue film

INTERVIEW. Known for his theatre work, director Matthew Warchus discusses his second film, an intimate portrayal of a surprising coalition between miners and gay activists in London during the 1984 pit closures. Pride opens Thu, Oct 30.

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Theatre director Matthew Warchus broadens his credentials with his second film Pride, winner of this year’s Queer Palm at Cannes.

The film shines a tender, funny and gutsy light on the unexpected bondage between miners striking in the debilitating 1984 pit closures protest and a small group of gay activists from London. 

You’re known almost exclusively for your stage work – you’re even set to succeed Kevin Spacey at London’s Old Vic. What drew you to this project?

A great script written about an incredible story. When I read it, I laughed and I cried and I felt very refreshed and uplifted. 

Does your work in theatre structure the way you film?

We had to make this film very quickly, so it was not always possible to do the usual coverage of shots. I got around that by staging things as situations and then stealing shots from them. I think that’s a bit like theatre: you fill the stage with life, and the audience looks where it wants to look. I was used to doing that, and used to directing large numbers of people. So that probably did help. In preparation, I also did various things that I do when I’m directing new musicals. I recorded a read-through, put it on my Iphone and added music and sound effects to it before we started shooting, so I could get the whole shape of the story in my head. 

The interior scenes, even some street scenes, feel very intimate: how deliberate was that?

I’m very interested in the people in the story feeling real rather than like actors performing. The way I cast it, and the way we worked with the actors, was to try to deepen that sense of reality. Tat Radcliffe, the cinematographer, is very sensitive to performance and what I would call the heat of a moment. So he naturally found the life coming from the actors. 

So you were trying for a film that has some rough edges?

I hope so. I didn’t want it to be too polished or constructed. I wanted it to feel a little like a documentary and very life-like. 

Music bridges the gap between the miners and gay activists on several occasions. Were those scripted?

The “Bread and Roses” moment is obviously scripted. Other than that, Stephen [Beresford, scriptwriter] imagined there would be lots of music, but the specific choices of music weren’t in the script. 

Some characters are archetypically British, but Mark is charismatic in a new “raunchy activist” way. Is this why you chose an American to play him?

I think that’s actually a possible byproduct of him being American, which is a positive thing. But no. He was the last person we cast and we spent a long, long time looking at British actors – in fact, we weren’t allowed to cast any Americans, that was one of the agreements early on – but he eventually turned up quite late and I think the fact that he is an outsider suits the role quite well. 

Dealing with the topic of AIDS must have been a huge challenge: having it as part of the film but not allowing it to get the upper hand…

Yes. And you could say the same about the miners’ strike itself. There are various aspects to this story that other films deal with in a more head-on way, but Stephen’s script includes the whole landscape of the time. The entire film is a kind of balancing act, really, of tone and content. He and I very carefully balanced the proportions of different parts of the story so that they felt important but the film didn’t become about any one of these particular issues. Because it’s not an issue film. It’s about people.

Pride opens in Berlin cinemas on October 30. Check our OV search engine for showtimes.