Ribka Metaferia reviews the engaging and enlightening Still The Enemy Within
Britain, 1984: a dystopian nation of government control, where the individual is left powerless and unable to fight the injustice they experience. Well, at least that’s the Orwellian version of it. Yet in reality – as opposed to the Airstrip One of Orwell’s imagining – things weren’t going all too differently. Margaret Thatcher had come into power five years before, the same year that the country had dipped into a two-year recession, leaving unemployment at its highest level in years. Understandably, the working classes were far from happy.
Then, the Iron Lady tipped the scales by announcing the closure of more than 20 mines, threatening the jobs of thousands of mineworkers nationwide. Led by president, Arthur Scargill, 160,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers mobilised themselves to fight against the rapid mass closure of their workplaces. Still The Enemy Within is the story of these men, the miners, their wives, and the other groups who supported them, allowing them to take drastic action to protect their way of life.
It is a story that has been told before. In the 30 years since the events portrayed in this film, films like Billy Elliot and The Big Man have used the miner’s strike as a backdrop. Matthew Warchus’s Pride, released mere months ago, tells the – clearly dramatised – story of the gay and lesbian Londoners who worked to support striking miners in Wales.
What sets Still The Enemy Within apart from these fictionalised films, besides the fact that it is a documentary, is the candour with which the story is told by those who lived it and lived through it, whether it is the miners who manned the picket lines, the wives who ran soup kitchens and picketed themselves, or the marginalised groups who supported the miners’ plights.
Paul Symonds tells of the loss of his friend David Green, the first fatality of the 1984 pickets, Joe Henry talks of his first day on the picket line – which ended up with him on the bonnet of his manager’s car – and Mike Jackson, who founded Lesbian and Gays Support The Miners, tells the real story behind the events depicted in Pride.
No element of Still The Enemy Within is hyperbolised, but you could be forgiven for believing these stories to be fiction. After all, many of them are truly unbelievable. It is remarkably easy to forget how recently these events occurred when you witness some of the events in the film. In particular, the shocking footage of the Battle of Orgreave, which has the potential to shock viewers to the core. The police brutality witnessed during this particular clash is enough to make one think Britain was in a state of military reign, or that the 1984 of Orwell’s book was the 1984 these miners were living in. We, in this modern age, fail to appreciate the civil liberties we maintain, whilst these miners were pummelled for simply exercising their right to mobilise and strike.
Reels of archived and previously unseen footage, set to such era-defining music as The Specials’ A Message to You Rudy, as well as the support of newly released government files – The Ridley Plan – bring this documentary to life. Re-enactments of some of the strikers’ stories help to illuminate the often-overlooked reality of the ’84 Miners Strike. With little sympathetic media coverage – if any – the general public at the time were unable to empathise with the plight of 160 000 miners who, despite their great efforts, lost the war. This film is the film those miners were hoping for, the film that might make the rest of the country understand the truth of what they lived through, as well as their motives for doing so.
The world has changed since 1984, for the most part, for the better. Yet the argument the miners end with, their vision of how the strike could have ended, is compelling. Still The Enemy Within is enlightening and informative, a visually appealing recreation of an event that changed the story of Britain. It is either a heartening story of people mobilising themselves to stand in solidarity and fight for a cause, or it is a horror story of the power that group mentality has to destabilise a nation, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. But whichever side you do sit on, this is a film not to be missed.
Featured image credit: screenrelish.com