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Screenwriter Stephen Beresford and filmmaker Louise Osmond on bringing real-life stories to the big screen|
Directed by Matthew Warchus from a script by first-time screenwriter Stephen Beresford, Pride has been selected to close this year’s Directors’ Fortnight. The film is set in 1984, at the height of the miners’ strike instigated by Margaret Thatcher’s policies, and tells the true story of a small group of gay and lesbian activists who take themselves, and their support, into the heart of a Welsh mining community, breaking down barriers as a result. Dark Horse, directed by Louise Osmond and currently in production, is a documentary recounting the rags-to-riches tale of champion racehorse Dream Alliance and members of the working-class Welsh syndicate who bred her. Besides the Welsh connection, both projects were developed and made with support from the BFI Film Fund.
Tell us the origins of your stories.
Stephen Beresford: I was first told the true story when I was 20. I didn’t believe it at first, that this group of gay people had supported this mining village with such passion and commitment that the miners had supported them in return, but it was a story that was always in the back of my imagination. When I pitched my producer and he got it straight away, I then had to go out and find the people involved!
Louise Osmond: I wanted to make a documentary with a horse as its centre and came across this group, which immediately leapt out as a fantastic story. At the time, an American company had optioned the rights to make a feature film but 16 months later, they got in touch and we were able to move forward. Just my luck, it happened to be the first year that if you wanted to apply for BFI funding for a feature documentary, you had to do a public pitch in front of 400 people.
What are the challenges of portraying real people and their lives on screen?
SB: It’s the first time I’d ever attempted a true story so I was flying blind, but my policy was to tell everyone the absolute truth from the beginning: that I was going to have to fictionalise the story and amalgamate characters and manipulate events to make them more dramatic or funnier. I said, “If that bothers you in any way, I will take you out altogether.” But all of them said yes. One woman even said, “Oh, make me up completely darling!”
Louise, you’re not having to fictionalise but you’re still editorialising. Are there similarities with Stephen’s experience?
LO: It’s almost the mirror of what Stephen’s doing because you’re also looking for the beats that will make an immersive narrative. There were some discussions when we were first pitching about, “Would these people be honest enough about their own lives to give you the kind of personal story you would expect to see in a written script?”
Did it take time to find that?
LO: It did. We did one series of long interviews with each of the main characters, and then went back for a second round. It was an interesting peeling away of layers.
SB: I found that the trouble with stories like this is that memory has turned them all to gold. It’s difficult to get the other stuff. I’d say, “A minibus of early 20s gay and lesbian people arrive at the Miner’s Welfare Hall – what happened?” And people would say, “Oh, we applauded them!” They had expunged any negativity from their mind. I had to be persistent and slowly stories started to come out but no one was coming forward to say, “Yes, I’m a bigot”. I characterised the bigotry by creating a character in the village and putting all the words of 1980s homophobia into her mouth.
Was it also challenging for you, Louise, to get past rose-tinted recollections?
LO: It’s a phenomenon of our times that people are much more aware of their story and the way it will play. But these people weren’t really interested in romanticising their story. Sometimes it crept towards that when they were discussing the horse but they would quickly come back to the reality of how people in the village would diss it the minute it lost a race and call it a donkey.
In filtering so many stories, how do you decide what to sacrifice?
SB: You hear great stories and you want to put them all in the film but you can’t. The language Matthew Warchus and I used was that it was like a chord: you needed to see six little moments throughout the story for each character and that all becomes part of the big symphony.
LO: People quickly identified themselves during the casting process. It does tend to come down to the people for whom it meant the most. You have a sense that this particular story changed their lives in some way so you’re drawn to them. We were thinking of it slightly as a caper film, a Lavender Hill Mob where the heist they’re going to execute is this sort of ridiculous attempt to break into the sport of kings with their foal bred on a slag heap. Then you find reasons to go sideways into people’s lives and characters.
Did issues arise regarding the responsibility you felt to the people whose stories you were telling?
SB: I have a split personality in that respect. There’s the humanist who’s concerned about people’s privacy and then there’s the writer, a ruthless, cold-blooded killer who just goes, “I want the story.” I always knew that the ruthless, cold-blooded killer would win but luckily for me, there was an extraordinary honesty from the people involved.
LO: I recognise what Stephen’s saying. When you’re in the edit, your greed for the story is insatiable. My exec producer said I should be able to sit on a sofa beside those people, watch the film and feel that I could defend it with my hand on my heart. That’s a good rule of thumb.
SB: Louise, have you any advice for me on the day when my contributors will see the film?
LO: Alcohol or drugs, basically. The last time, I remember I was sitting in my car in the car park beforehand, literally groaning in pain and fear. It never gets easier.
SB: At least you’ve told me the truth.