In 1984, striking British miners found an unlikely ally: a London LGBT group. The new movie Pride – which has already sparked whispers of award-season buzz after its crowd-pleasing premieres in Cannes and Toronto – chronicles this bond.
PEOPLE sat down at the Toronto International Film Festival with three of the protesters who inspired the film and learned that the partnership didn’t end when the strike did.
Mike Jackson, 60, co-founded Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners after the miners put out a call for help. LGSM then decided to raise money and back the working-class community of Dulais Valley, in South Wales, where the miners were based – and a lifelong bond began.
“It was very interesting sending that first letter,” Jackson remembers with a laugh. “‘We’re a bunch of queers in London, and we want to support you.'”
Along with fellow protester Jonathan Blake, Jackson and the rest of the LGSM group began a powerful friendship with many residents of the Welsh town. On their nerve-wracking first visit to Dulais, “There was this trepidation and fear,” Blake says. “Yet, the warmth that we were greeted with was just astonishing. I have goosebumps just remembering.”
With a lot of laughs and tears along the way, Pride recounts how and why the two groups built a lasting relationship. (See how the film was made in the video below!)
“It’s a romance between two communities who got to know each other and realized there wasn’t a lot of difference between them,” says Siân James, 55, a modest miner’s-wife-turned-member-of-parliament, who was inspired to go into politics after the strike. “The common thread was it was a group of people telling us they had been oppressed for many years We discovered quickly we had more similarities [than differences].
When the strike did end, in 1985, with the miners ultimately losing, James says her community had no alternative but to back their LGBT advocates in return. “We couldn’t forget the patience and the generosity of the people who came and shared with us,” she says.
The help they provided had more of an impact than they ever could have imagined.
“It is amazing to think that the action we took to support the miners repaid a thousand-fold,” Blake says.
“In the U.K., you can actually draw a line right back to October 1985 and the National Union of Mineworkers announcing it was going to support the lesbian and gay motion for equalities,” adds Jackson, noting the miners helped achieve the rights British LGBT citizens enjoy today. “We thought we were supporting the miners, but in retrospect, what we were supporting was something far more precious.”
Today, James says LGSM members and the miners are still close. “People made particular friends with particular families,” she says. “We’ve been to funerals, we’ve been to weddings; we’ve been through sad and happy times together.”
All three inspired characters in the film. And while they’re happy their story is finally being told 30 years later, seeing the movie for the first time was difficult.
“From the moments the credits started rolling, we were there – we were back in 1984,” James says. “It was massive, like, ‘Wow.’ ”
“One of the things that just welled up in me watching the film was all the people that aren’t here, that we’ve lost [to AIDS],” says Blake, who was diagnosed as HIV-positive early on in the crisis. “I had to get through that. It wasn’t until the second time I saw the film that I could watch and enjoy and savor it. It is astonishing.”
Adds Jackson, the film was “emotionally exhausting. We cried and laughed and laughed and cried.”
James says she was thrilled when she heard some huge British actors (see: Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton) were onboard: “It got exciting. Suddenly, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, if people of that caliber are seeing the value of worth in it ‘ ”
Another household name in the credits? Dominic West, who played Blake’s character. “I was completely sort of gobsmacked,” says Blake, who got to know The Wire star over homemade lemon-drizzle cake.
Blake, Jackson and James are hoping the star-power shines a light on their story, which Jackson calls “a celebration of humanity.”
“I still can’t believe that I had anything to do with [pioneering an equal rights movement],” says Blake, who thinks of the film as “a beacon of hope.” “We were there to support a community that needed support.”
Adds Jackson: “Life’s a lot better now for the LGBT community. We fought for this so nobody else has to fight for it again It’s important that our history is remembered. That’s what’s so great about this movie.”
Pride is in wide release now.
For more on the film and the heroes who inspired it, pick up PEOPLE‘s 40th Anniversary Issue, on newstands now.