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Still The Enemy Within: How Film & TV Dealt With The Miners' Strike
Kevin Mccaighy , January 26th, 2015 08:06

Kevin Mccaighy looks back at film and television responses to the events of 30 years ago and interviews producer Mark Lacey and director Owen Gower who made Still The Enemy Within

"Much as I admire Billy Elliot and anything that makes people aware of the strike, at the end of the day I'm not satisfied with nostalgia. I didn't want my book GB84 to offer a sense of redemption because as a country we haven't got it. And we don't deserve it" David Peace

2014 was a year of commemoration; a state-sponsored remembrance of what the Coalition Government wants the public to believe is a consensus-based reflection on the centenary of World War One. When the Labour MP Tristram Hunt stated that "history is where the great battles of public life are now being fought", he was correct. But one area that has been conspicuous by its absence from the public forum is the 30th anniversary of the great Miners' Strike of 1984/85. This pivotal moment in recent British history has been studiously ignored by the mainstream media. While there certainly have been items on national news programmes and a willingness within regional news to explore issues relating to the strike, the fact remains that only one documentary has been shown by one of the major channels and that was The Miners Strike And Me, made by Stuart Ramsay for ITV, effectively buried in the schedule – broadcast one weeknight evening after the 10 0'Clock News. This basic talking head style film, whilst being sympathetic to those who had been part of the struggle was a totally inadequate response to any of the issues that this anniversary should have brought to the surface.

Barring some less than informative headlines generated by the release of Cabinet documents under the thirty year rule, the national broadcast media has turned its back on some of the most incendiary revelations to ever have been released to the public. The documents that were released categorically dismantle many deeply held assumptions about the strike, bring so many new issues to the surface that have received no answers from those in a position to give them, and most chillingly of all, confirm what most of those who were on the side of the miners in the first feared all along.

It is with some relief that the independent documentary Still The Enemy Within was released last summer, a powerful and engrossing film that runs counter to all of the official omissions and obfuscations which has recently completed a highly successful run at independent cinemas all over the UK, earning rapturous receptions everywhere it has played and winning the Audience Award at Sheffield DocFest. Produced by Bad Bonobo Films, directed by Owen Gower and crowd-funded by independent and trade union donations, the film is a vital, visceral account of political history recounted by the men and women most involved who fought for their jobs and their communities against seemingly overwhelming odds: a ruthless Tory Government, a brutal Police Force, a complicit media and a vacillating, "soft left" trade union bureaucracy. The stories of working men and women bound together in what was in essence a life and death struggle are detailed with eloquence and passion by all involved, from ebullient miners such as Steve Hamil to the immense dignity of women like Betty Cook, co-founder of Women Against Pit Closures.

If surprise film of last year Pride is testament to two groups of people forging bonds of solidarity in the teeth of massive hostility, Still The Enemy Within captures just what those bonds had to withstand in the face of monstrous Police violence, constant media castigation of picketing and of the NUM President Arthur Scargill, withdrawal of benefits, and downright lies from both the National Coal Board and Margaret Thatcher herself. Skillfully using archive news footage and key passages from period documentaries like Which Side Are You On? and most crucially, Yvette Vanson's The Battle For Orgreave (which demonstrates once and for all what horrors were perpetrated against miners by South Yorkshire Police on June 18 1984), the film demonstrates how and the why the strike could have been won, and ultimately the reasons for its defeat.

Not only that, it is a call to arms for activists fighting against austerity today. Producer Mike Simons was a journalist during the strike, and in a book he co-authored with Alex Callinicos entitled The Great Strike, he paid tribute to those who stood and fought the evils of the Thatcher Government with these words:

"The daring and initiative with which they launched the strike, the courage and endurance with which they waged it, the pride and defiance with which they ended it – all were a powerful vindication of the capacity of the working class to transform society. The memory of the Great Miners' Strike will always shine as an example of working people's heroism and determination"

In 2014 Still The Enemy Within more than lived up to those sentiments, and is a more than fitting tribute to men and women whose struggle will never be forgotten.

Interview with producer Mark Lacey and director Owen Gower

How successful do you feel the recent cinema screening tour of the film across the UK was? How different or similar were the various audience reactions to it? 

Mark Lacey: The tour of the film's been brilliant actually.  It's been shown in over 80 cinemas across the country which is a huge success for an independent documentary like this. Screenings have been absolutely packed and the reaction from audiences has been pretty amazing. We hoped that the film would be well received in ex-mining areas but what's been so great is how well it's gone down all over the country. I think it just shows how much of an appetite there is out there for a story like this. It seems to have come both from people who were involved at the time and who felt the truth had been buried by the media but also from much younger people who are coming to this story for the first time but are looking for an explanation for why the world is how it is today.

Owen Gower: Another big part of it is that we've done Q&As with almost every screening. People are often really fired up after the film so it's great to be able to hear from audiences directly and also for them to be able to ask us about the film.  It creates a real buzz and is so much more of a direct way to do it - where there's not that separation between film-makers and the audience. And so far the film seems to have gone down really well with everyone, so it's been a really nice experience to be part of.

Did the positive reviews in the mainstream media help get the word out about the film to people who might not have heard of it?

ML: The reaction from the mainstream media was a bit of a surprise actually.  We were obviously hoping for some good reviews to help get the film out there but what we didn't expect was that critics across the board seemed to embrace the film.  We'd actually expected the film to polarize critics a lot more so when we got great reviews in the Daily Mail and Daily Express we sort of wondered if we'd done something wrong. But I think it's just a testament to the people in the film that their stories are so powerful and moving that it's overcome these old divisions to reach out much more widely.

Given that you are still paying for the film how can people get involved in getting the film shown in their local area?

OG: The whole film's been totally independently funded so it's really been the support of ordinary people that has helped make it possible and got the film out there. There's everything from people contacting their local cinema and asking them to show it to people organising their own screenings in their universities, local welfares, community centres, anywhere with a big screen really. The best thing is to get in touch with us via our website if you want to pay to organise a screening. And the film's also available on DVD or download via the website.

More information on Still The Enemy Within and download here