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DVD Review

DVD cover

Still the Enemy Within


Distributor: Lace
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 08 December 2014

Still the Enemy Within is a unique insight into one of history’s most dramatic events: the 1984-85 British Miners’ Strike. No experts. No politicians. Thirty years on, this is the raw first-hand experience of those who lived through the UK’s longest strike. Follow the highs and lows of that life-changing year...

In 1984, a conservative government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared war on the unions, taking on the strongest in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers. Following a secret plan, the government began announcing the closure of coal mines, threatening not just an industry but whole communities and a way of life. Against all the forces the government could throw at them, 160 000 coal miners took up the fight and became part of a battle that would change the course of history.

Still the Enemy Within tells the story of a group of miners and supporters who were on the frontline of the strike for an entire year. These were the people Margaret Thatcher labelled "the Enemy Within". Many of them have never spoken on camera before. Using interviews and a wealth of rare and never before seen archive, this documentary draws together personal experiences – whether they’re tragic, funny or terrifying – to take the audience on an emotionally powerful journey through the dramatic events of that year.

Follow Norman Strike, from devising ingenious ways of getting past police road blocks in a key battleground, Nottingham, to suddenly finding himself a minor celebrity after a mishap on national television; Paul Symonds, from the optimism and excitement of a young man fighting for his future to the tragic death of his best friend on a picket line; Joyce Sheppard, from her life as an ordinary housewife to becoming a political activist and facing violence as huge numbers of police are sent in to Yorkshire villages to break the strike.

From the infamous Battle of Orgreave, where miners found themselves in a brutal confrontation with over five thousand police, to the hardship endured after almost a year on strike – their story is not just one of personal drama but one that shaped the world we live in today.

This isn't a story about the battle between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill, the main focus here is to tell the story from the miners point of view. There are no experts or historians giving their opinion, or putting everything into some sort of social context, the entire movie rests on the shoulders of the miners who lived through the events.

There is no political agenda on the part of the filmmakers, nor a need to get over the fact that the miners were plucky heroes fighting the might of the government. This is a documentary that just wants to tell some personal and interesting stories from those that were in the thick of it.

As documentaries go, this could not have been more impartial. You never get the feeling that the film is on the side of the miners; it's simply letting them tell their stories.

I grew up in Rotherham, South Yorkshire in the '80s. At the start of the Miners Strike, in 1984, I was 14. If you lived through the time period then you were of one of two minds. There were those that were fed up of the power of the unions, constantly calling out there members on strike at the drop of a hat and holding the country to ransom. While others believed that the unions were important in ensuring that the honest working class were given a fair wage and safe working conditions.

The National Union of Miners, to me at least, seemed to be at the core of what was wrong about unions back then. Strike, after strike if inflation busting pay rises weren't offered. One of the miners admits that they would go on strike every time a member was sacked for any misdemeanour.

This was something that followed me to London in the '90s when almost every year the tube workers would go on strike because they wanted more money, despite the fact, as a journalist I kept the same salary year after year. In fact, I remember one instance where the papers were reporting that the tube workers were on strike because one of their members had been fired after drinking on the job and his locker was found to contain cans of lager.

At the start of this century, when the magazine I worked for became not as profitable as our American owners desired, we were closed down. This is just the way of things, and so I approached this movie expecting to spend most of it rolling my eyes at miners who brought the majority of the problems upon themselves - for surely if they'd not striked so much in the first place Thatcher wouldn't have needed to go in and smash up the unions.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how this documentary was structured. There was no political agenda, no examination of who was right or wrong. There was also very little in the way of challenging the tactics of the police. What we have here is a look back at history from the point of view of those honest, hard working miners that suffered for their struggle.

Sure, there is the odd moment when thuggish aspects come through. For example Norman Strike (easily this film's most loveable character) explains what picket lines are supposed to be: that you stop the drivers of vehicles and lay out your point of view and why you want them to turn around. They then have the option to do so or drive through the line. But one miner tells the story of how he not only verbally bullied a driver, but then threw himself on the car to try and stop it crossing the picket line. Surely those miners forcibly stopping anyone crossing the picket line shouldn't be kicking up a fuss when the police use similar tactics to cordon off areas.

The audio commentary is also worth listening to, as the producers talk about police brutality and how, after sifting through hours of footage, how they were surprised at the way the media portrayed the miners as a thuggish mob.

Extras include an audio commentary with the producers; A Christmas Like Never Before (5 min, 06 sec segment that was cut from the finished film for timing reasons. It shows how the miners were given a decent Christmas thanks to the generous donations of the public as well as foreign supporters. Although Norman Strike said that they were living on "£500 a week. Which doesn't sound a lot..." I think he may have meant "month" as £500 a week take home is a lot today, let alone by 1984 standards); The Producers Within (10 min, 19 second interview with the producers on the making of the movie); The Musicians Within (8 min, 27 sec interview with some of the bands that supported the miners strike. Including new interviews with The Mekons, Red Skins, The Men They Couldn't Hang); Highlights of London Premiere (3 min, 06 sec interviewing people who have just seen the film); Trailer (2 min, 27 sec); and Dancing in Dulais (23 min, 22 sec look at the gay men and lesbian societies activity during the strike).

For those who in recent years have become fed up of documentaries that start off with an agenda and change facts to back it up (yes, Michael Moore, I'm looking at you) or that sex things up with sensationalism and added fabricated drama, Still the Enemy Within will come as a refreshing change.


Darren Rea

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