There are a series of events from a country’s recent past that illuminate with the ferocity of a burning church. The perfect storm of Margaret Thatcher gaining control of the Conservatives, her party’s return to government and a need to cut off the power of the unions all meant that the UK was heading towards a point of no return that now defines the streets we live on. Owen Gower’s award-winning Still the Enemy Within (2014) purports to explain the micro narrative of “the last English Civil War” and how the ripples from the 1984 miners’ strike moved the tectonic plates of contemporary society and are still being felt. Somewhat predictably, the attacks on the film have already started: “It’s agitprop, it’s too one-sided, etc.”
For those old enough to have lived through the tumultuous events, one certainly doesn’t remember these arguments being raised in ’84 when the press demonised the NUM and its leader, Arthur Scargill. Remember how Scargill was laughed at by mainstream society and repeatedly told he was paranoid? Well, everything he claimed would happened back in ’84 has indeed happened – only far worse – in 2014. As Ken Loach has said many times in defence of this film, “The mainstream media didn’t tell the truth about the miners’ strike when it happened. And the same lies are still being told. It’s important that we tell this story.” And tell it is exactly what director Gower has done in this powerful piece of documentation that tells an untold story and could becomes the light in a tinderbox that arguably remains to be lit.
Still the Enemy Within is an elegiac study of a national story that in some areas of the country has become myth. Over two decades on from the end of the miners’ strike, only writer David Peace has truly touched on it in his masterpiece, GB84. Quite simply, it was an epochal moment: society was changed, the unions smashed and it destroyed any hope of serious socialist interplay in government, but most importantly it illuminated Thatcher’s idea that appealing to people’s base self interest and the denial of society was a tactic that would be constantly rewarded. Post-strike saw Thatcher’s policies implemented which still reverberate in today’s body politic and, like then, still go unchecked. This is why Gower’s Still the Enemy Within is so important; it tells the real story behind ’84, a story when heard for the first time trumps anything Orwell could have dreamed up. All this could makes the doc seem defeatist and a belated celebration of a great loss, but above anything else it presents a narrative about people from all sides helping a common cause.