The National Union of Mineworkers’ strike in 1984-5 marked a symbolic end to centuries of British industrial dominance. Its presence is still felt up and down the country, understandably for the lives it destroyed, but also for the sense of community brought about by the miners’ struggle, evidenced most recently in this year’s fantastic Pride. The strike is no stranger to UK cinema; classics such as Billy Elliot, Brassed Off, and the aforementioned Pride were all born out of it, but fiction can only go so far. Still the Enemy Within takes these personal stories and lays them bare, recounting the strike in unrelenting detail.
“No Experts. No Politicians” was the mantra for director Owen Glover. Relying heavily on first-hand accounts from the people directly affected, the documentary prides itself on letting its story be told through the narratives of the individuals involved. It never goes above them to try to give an in-depth political analysis, always allowing the miners and their wives to do the explaining. As a result, the strike is depicted as a war, playing out over the course of a year with scheming, subterfuge, and pickets looking more like disjointed medieval battles.
In refusing to speak to the politicians and police involved, the documentary provides an evidently one-sided account. This however, isn’t really a problem when you hear the stories the miners have to tell. Not every documentary needs to be one hundred percent impartial, sometimes it feels ok to be a little biased.
Still the Enemy Within is a comprehensive account of the events of the strike, encompassing every event in often minute detail. While this makes the film an important document of a greatly significant time, it could also be the film’s failing. Running at close to two hours in length, the sheer volume of information can seem a little exhausting and the film might have felt stronger and more focused had it been slightly shorter. One could argue however, that such a serious event warrants this level of scrutiny.
Coming thirty years after the strike, Still the Enemy Within seems to have arrived at the right time. Generations old enough to remember the miners’ plight will appreciate being reminded of the events while for those born since, the film serves as a thorough introduction to the events, providing a background understanding which is necessary to truly appreciate films such as Pride. Still the Enemy Within should be compulsory viewing not only for school students learning about British history, but also for anyone who has even a remote interest in the relatively recent events that are still shaping this country today.