fri 19/04/2019

Still the Enemy Within | reviews, news & interviews

Still the Enemy Within

Still the Enemy Within

Intimate and moving documentary shows the Miners' Strike's human cost

Across the barricades: a street scene during the strikeAll photos ©John Sturrock/

You expect the tears, anger and pride, as NUM veterans relive Britain’s defining industrial dispute, 30 years later. The bafflement of a South Welsh ex-miner is more telling; the way his voice slows in disbelief at the level of violence the British state unleashed in the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, and incomprehension as he still struggles to grasp how and why what he saw could have happened. Two miners died during the strike, as did a cabbie taking one to cross a picket line, and three children sifting the coalfields for scraps to survive on. Light casualties, really, for a strike Margaret Thatcher’s government treated as a war. Director Owen Gower’s documentary doesn’t talk to politicians, instead trusting fresh witnesses, photos and footage to explain how it felt to be on the front line of the beaten side.

This is a more cinematic film than Ken Loach’s similarly unfashionable, dogged defence of the Welfare State, The Spirit of ’45, made by a director too young to remember the strike. There are a few unnecessary dramatisations, and animated enhancements of photos. These drop away as the story darkens and tightens its grip.

Gower begins in the scrubland above what was once Frickley pit, as ex-miner Paul Symonds describes the rapid plunge into pitch-black with which every day began for the tough, proud men whose union had brought down Ted Heath's government. The Ridley Plan, designed before Thatcher's election much as the Neocons plotted the Iraq invasion pre-9/11, set down in detail how another NUM strike could be provoked and crushed, allowing weaker unions’ defeat and an untrammelled free market. Glimpses of this document’s pages in the film make David Peace’s great paranoid novel of the strike, GB84, feel all too true.

The euphoria of the strike’s early days is one of the many pleasurable memories in a film that’s often funny, too. If you’ve enjoyed Pride, then here’s Mike Jackson of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, welling up as he remembers the applause he got at a miners’ meeting. Having grown up an outsider, it felt like “coming home”. Women famously joined the picket lines. Transformed from wives to respected activists, they helped to hold besieged, starving communities together. As with Blitz veterans, there’s nostalgia at the communal purpose.

Still the Enemy Within is at its strongest remembering the Battle of Orgreave, a brutal police cavalry charge in a sunny Yorkshire field the BBC shamefully reversed the footage of on that evening’s news, and the subsequent occupation of pit villages by politicised police from far-distant forces. The testimonies and footage here of mass harassment and intimidation show a secret, one-sided war on Britons cut off from the rest of an oblivious nation. Whether or not you remember the strike, or agree with it, this makes you feel the grimness of its last months, described here as “messy, and heartbreaking”.

Gower and his witnesses are very clear that this is a history lesson we’re still living in. Zero-hour contracts, demonization of the poor and unions as the rich get constantly, distantly richer: seeing the anarchy we’ve inherited after watching this important, moving film, you may wonder who the enemy within really was.

Still The Enemy Within is released in cinemas from 3 October


The testimonies and footage show a secret, one-sided war on Britons cut off from the rest of an oblivious nation


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters