Just out on DVD, (Still) The Enemy Within is an ideal Chirstmas gift, one that offers us a glimpse at the past but also suggests lessons to be learned for the future, says Jonny Jones.
(Still) The Enemy Within is available on DVD or as a download from the official website
(Still) The Enemy Within is a new documentary that tells the story of the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, a monumental and inspirational battle between the National Mineworkers Union and the arrayed forces of the British state that ended with a defeat for miners and the entire working class. What makes the film so unusual is that, despite knowing how it was going to end, I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout the film.
Director Owen Gower combines an incredible range of archival footage, some of it unseen since contemporaneous broadcast, with recollections from miners and members of various support and solidarity groups: rather than interviewing ex-politicians and officials, the focus is firmly upon the activists. This has the effect of providing an account of the strike that is not only grounded in the day to day experiences of strikers and their supporters, but is also informed by a radical politics that has been excluded from most recent accounts.
Peter Bradshaw, in his Guardian review of the film, described it as “as gripping as any thriller”. It’s also a funny film in places, especially when we hear about absurdities such as the lengths miners had to go to in order to bypass police roadblocks. One of its greatest strengths is the way in which it sweeps the viewer up in the dynamic, transformative processes that the participants experienced: how women from mining communities found themselves at the heart of organising the social backbone of the strikes, or of how working class miners became confident enough in their ideas to debate them with those they thought better educated than themselves.
The film is essential viewing for socialists and activists, whether they were around during the strike or are too young to remember. It is an engrossing account of what it must have been like to be caught up in a social struggle of epic scale – the elation of victories, the frustration of setbacks. The film doesn’t shy away from showing the scale of the defeat, and the devastation it has wreaked on working class communities, but nor does it give any quarter to the notion that defeat was a forgone conclusion.