Documentaries are a source of fact but can be a force of change. They can be the alarm that notifies the masses on a pressing issue or a portal to events of the past. The non-fiction realm of film is often stranger or more thrilling/moving than the scripted world of the movies. But sometimes films cover an issue with such depth, frankness and power that they transcend personal preferences and beliefs and just become a fantastic tackling of an issue. Films like The Cove, Project Nim, The Imposter and last year’s explosive SeaWorld expose Blackfish are recent examples of thrilling documentaries that sidestepped any individual opinion and were just unanimous examples of excellent films. And it is with this said; that we can add Owen Gower’s independently produced film about the British Miner’s strike of 1984-85. Still The Enemy Within is unashamedly spoken from the side of the miners and it’s interviewees are made up of no politicians or media workers but the actual people that lived, fought and lost during this lingering strike against Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The film, in its 1hr 52-minute duration, covers key experiences and moments of the strike and details the overall fight the working classes were involved in against Thatcher-run Britain and her aggressive politics. The film is an intimate and moving portrayal of people standing up against the machine and suggests that even if the past is lost, the future is there for the taking. A film like this, in these times of questionable media ethics, industrial crisis and turbulent financial tides, is one that feels breathtakingly relevant and sadly poetic. For certain audiences Gower’s film will be an emotive return to their younger years and more than likely a momentous occasion where the miner’s story is told without any censorship or covering up. For others, even of opposing politics, this is a film about people standing up for what they believe and it is unshakably inspiring and touching.
From the infamous police scandal at Orgreave, South Yorkshire, to the situation in Nottinghamshire, to the support of other activist groups, this film covers the year that shook the British coal mining honestly and with often compelling archive footage and real life testimonies. In fact, one very pleasing inclusion was an acknowledgement of women in the activist effort and the work of groups like the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners)- which neatly makes this doc a great companion to this year’s funny and touching Drama Pride. The film is filled with heart and strife but never forgets to be affectionate, humorous and down to earth. This is mostly down to the fact it allows the people to tell their story, which is by far the greatest strength of the film. It allows for a more passionate, more direct and occasionally a more confrontational coverage of this important and lingering aspect of British history (which has only really grown in its relevance over the years).
Still The Enemy Within is undeniably on one side of the picket line but this is expected and whatever your political persuasion, this is an endlessly rewarding film. There are few films that showcase the working man/woman so beautifully and honestly; this is a story of political rebellion, friendship, employment and heartache. Archive footage, alongside a well-chosen soundtrack, back up many statements made and this story is almost akin to a socio-realist Drama. It is of little wonder that Gower’s open and gripping film has been so well received, it is a reflective look at not only a page in time but the people who filled that page and is a story that still burns in the hearts of many families, friends and individuals to this day. Some still claim that this era of Thatcherism led to the downfall of the decency of law and unionship and there is plenty of evidence to support this (especially when this film covers the loss of life). All these elements and more mount up to make Still The Enemy Within the best British documentary of 2014.