It has been 30 years since the 1984-1985 miners’ strike in Great Britain and to mark the anniversary, Owen Gower’s upcoming Still the Enemy Within documents the event through the voices of a group Margaret Thatcher at the time denounced as ‘killers of democracy’ and ‘the enemy within’: some of the actual miners involved in those very strikes.
One of the strike’s crucial events, of course, centered around Nottingham and the decision of many coal miners to work through the pickets in the Howarth and Thoresby collieries. Nottingham at the time produced 25% of the country’s coal and without their support, victory for the National Union of Mineworkers was uncertain. A Nottingham miner in the documentary explains that ‘Each area is given a choice to vote and the Notts area voted to come to work so that’s why we’re here,’ to the detestation of other miners in which one plainly states that ‘When we found out that Nottingham had refused to come out were furious. I mean, how dare they, you know, this is the National Union of Mineworkers and if the majority of the National Union of Mineworkers are on strike. They should have came out and striked.’
The feelings of betrayal from the miners around Britain such as Yorkshire towards those working in Nottingham are passionate and hard-hitting. This is often punctuated excellently through previously unseen archive footage and stills of thousands of people protesting on public streets. The entire situation surrounding Nottingham provides the documentary’s most compelling section in which various miners explain how desperate they were to get into a county which ‘was completely sealed off by police,’ as one miner remembers. The tension during this period resulted in the first death of the strikes, that of David Jones, who was killed after being struck in the head with a brick in Ollerton. The moving footage of his funeral is one of many sobering moments in the documentary.
Still the Enemy Within ends poignantly with John Brown (who worked through the ‘84 strike in Nottingham) lamenting after the closure of numerous collieries: ‘Our union, they must have worn blindfolds. They never told us that this was gonna happen. Arthur [Scargill] had predicted this years ago. We should have listened to Arthur.’
If Still the Enemy Within falls short, it is during dramatic reconstructions in which various stories regaled by the miners are heard as black and white dramatisations play out on screen. A scene, for instance, in which police officers smash the windows of a miner’s van with batons adds very little to a subject matter hardly bereft of tension or drama in the first place. Because the documentary has plenty of archive footage of actual police brutality (that is as shocking as one would expect), these reconstructions feel out of place and unnecessary.
Nonetheless, Still the Enemy Within is a compelling – and crucially, an important – document of an historic moment in our country’s history recalled by a too long underrepresented group of people whose pain and memories still refuse to fade away three decades on. (7)