Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review of ‘Still the Enemy Within’

This well-made, insightful, thoughtful documentary about the 1984-5 miners’ strike in the UK was painful to watch, because it’s impossible to forget that the story ends with a bitter defeat. Subsequent events have demonstrated that the miners’ militant leadership were absolutely correct in their assessment of what the government had planned for the industry and the communities of people who worked in it. The extent to which the government was prepared to go in subverting the very rule of law which it accused the miners of seeking to undermine has also become clearer, as has the complicity of the right-wing media in propagating utterly false smears about the miners’ union and their leaders.

That the miners were proved right, and the government shown to be nasty, doesn't make it any easier to watch. The whole awful 1980s experience came flooding back – the Wapping dispute, Rate Capping, the Falklands War triumphalism, the 1987 election, Section 28…I could literally taste it all. Much of it bound up with a particularly windy corner of Swiss Cottage where we did collections and street stalls. For me it was slightly worse because the first interviewee, to whom the film keeps returning, came from Frickley Colliery, the pit which adoped by my then constituency Labour Party, Hampstead and Highgate.

The film attempts to end with a positive note, showing some of its interviewees marching on an ant-cuts demo, with a sort of ‘the struggle goes on’ message. But this obscures rather than clarifies. In the 1980s the labour movement was actually confronting the state and its masters; traipsing through the streets on a protest march is not the same thing at all. Somehow this made it worse.

This is a great film, and anyone interested in progressive politics should watch it, but unlike "Pride"there aren't many laughs or a happy, uplifting ending. This is a lesson in defeat, the kind that you can see coming but are powerless to prevent. As I left two women behind me, who might have been comrades from that time, were talking about the possibility of a film about the Wapping dispute. A good idea, but can I be spared having to watch it?

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