Monday, 20 August 2007

The Miners' Strike in Films and Books

The UK miners' strike was the background for the critically acclaimed 2000 film Billy Elliot. Several scenes powerfully depict the chaos at the picket lines, clashes between armies of police and striking miners, and the shame associated with crossing the picket line.

It is also involved in the background to the plot in Brassed Off, which is set ten years after the strike when all the miners have the lost the will to resist and accept the closure of their pit with resignation. Brassed Off was set in the fictional "Grimley", a thinly disguised version of the hard-hit ex-mining village of Grimethorpe, where some of it was filmed.

The satirical Comic Strip Presents episode The Strike (1988) depicts an idealistic Welsh screenwriter's growing dismay as his hard-hitting and grittily realistic script about the strike is mutilated by a Hollywood producer into an all-action thriller starring Al Pacino (played by Peter Richardson) and Meryl Streep (played by Jennifer Saunders). The 1984 episode of the 1996 BBC television drama serial Our Friends in the North revolves around the events of the strike, and the scenes of clashes between the police and striking miners were re-created using many of those who had taken place in the actual real-life events on the miners' side. In 2005 BBC One broadcast the one-off drama Faith, written by William Ivory and starring Jamie Draven and Maxine Peake. It viewed the strike from the perspective of both the police and the miners.

A 2005 book called "GB84" by David Peace combines fictional accounts of pickets, union officials and strike-breakers. Graphic details are provided of many of the strike's major events. It also suggests that British intelligence was involved in undermining the strike, including in the alleged suggestion of a link between Scargill and Gaddafi.

As mentioned above, in 2001, British visual artist Jeremy Deller worked with historical societies, battle re-enactors, and dozens of the people who participated in the violent 1984 clashes of picketers and police to reconstruct and re-enact the Battle of Orgreave. A documentary about the re-enactment was produced by Deller and director Mike Figgis and was broadcast on British television; and Deller also published a book called The English Civil War Part II documenting both the project and the historical events it investigates (Artangel Press, 2002). Involving the reenactors, who would normally recreate Viking battles or medievals wars, was a way for Deller to situate the recent and controversial Battle of Orgreave (and labor politics themselves) as part of mainstream history. See http://www.artangel.org.uk/pages/past/01/01_deller.htm

G.Mckie's poem Ode to Heseltine was written after the announcement to close 31 collieries in 1992, which betrayed previous promises to miners who had worked on during the strike.

http://www.strike84.co.uk An online collection of photographic images taken during the dispute.

Popular songs about the Miners' Strike
The strike has been the subject of songs by many music groups. Of the more well known; the band Pulp recorded a song "Last day of the miners' strike", Funeral for a Friend wrote a song called "History", the folk-rock band Steeleye Span recorded the song "Blackleg Miner", and Ewan MacColl wrote the song "Daddy, What did you do in the strike?". Newcastle native, Sting, recorded a song about the strike called "We Work the Black Seam" for his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, in 1985.

The folk song "The Ballad of '84" contains the view that David Jones and Joe Green died as a result of the police's handling of events. U2's song "Red Hill Mining Town" from their Joshua Tree album is about the strike, according to lead singer Bono. On July 7, 1984 the anarcho-punk band Crass played their final show in Aberdare, Wales at a benefit for striking miners.

Chumbawamba recorded a song called "Fitzwilliam", which described the Yorkshire village after the strike. The village eventually saw around a third of its housing stock demolished due to the dominance of derelict properties. They also made a song called "Frickley" about the football club Frickley Athletic, which referenced the continued distrust of the police by those in mining areas after the strike.

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