We recently published a review of a film shown on the BBC
entitled Faith which wove together the lives of its fictional
characters with the real events of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. The
result was a moving drama and an unusually honest account of this great
struggle, sympathetic to the miners and their communities. The film’s
director, David Thacker (well known for his work in television and the
theatre, directing the plays of Shakespeare and Arthur Miller amongst
many others, and as artistic director of the renowned Young Vic theatre
in London) spoke to us about the making of the film and his own
political views. (May 2005)
Faith is an emotional and heartfelt drama. Tell us a bit
about how you came to be involved in its making, and your own opinions
of the Miners’ Strike.
I had been involved in politics for many years prior to 1984, but
had not been active for some time. The outbreak of the Miners’ Strike
coincided with important changes and developments in my own life – the
birth of my first son, and moving to London to take up my new position
at the Young Vic theatre. I learned of miners needing accommodation in
London while raising money, addressing meetings etc, so my wife, Margot
Leicester, and I put up two miners from Sunderland – Mick and John –
for a month or so. We learned a great deal from their first hand
experience of the struggle and remained supportive of the strike,
raising money and so on, for the rest of its duration.
At the end of the strike a friend of mine from Doncaster, Ron Rose,
suggested producing a theatre piece on the strike. This became “The
Enemies Within” which we put on at The Young Vic. It was a form of
theatre which has become more familiar in recent years – with David
Hare’s play on the privatisation of the railways, for example – but
which twenty years ago was far less widely known, consisting entirely
of verbatim accounts of interviews. In fact we were very purist about
this form, every word in the production was as spoken to us by people
in the mining community concerned.
We travelled to Barnburgh near Doncaster and stayed at a college
there for about three weeks. We took tape recordings of our
conversations with people in the local community and then transcribed
them meticulously. We read these to each other and then made our
selections of the material to use, but nothing was added. Of course,
nothing is politically neutral; there are always editorial choices to
be made. In relation to politics and art, it is not possible to be
non-political. Politics is everywhere and concerned with everything, so
one’s ideas are always expressed to one degree or another in whatever
one does. Politics is certainly in everything I put on the screen or
the stage. That would be equally true if we were talking about
producing an episode of Doctor Who. This does not mean it would be
overtly political, but that thoughts and ideas would be developed
within a certain context. Everyone has an outlook of one kind or
another, which influences their work. My politics informs everything I
do. Therefore before going to Doncaster I had a point of view, my own
political opinions, and I supported the strike, but I was determined to
keep an open mind.
Running through all the accounts we heard were two central themes.
Firstly, there was the appalling violence and brutality of the police
during the strike. Both in the small scale of their everyday
activities, and their major operations to occupy whole communities –
they were like a foreign invader occupying entire villages and towns.
This came as a great shock to everyone. These were people who had
thought of themselves as decent and law abiding, and furthermore,
before the strike they had respected the police. They were astonished,
shocked and bewildered by their experience. They had always thought
that the police were honest upholders of law and order. Instead their
own experience of violence, bullying and intimidation at the hands of
the police really shook them up.
Here were housewives – some of them had even voted Tory in the past
– who would invite you in and show you the dent in their fridge,
“that’s what they did, the police, they barged in here and smashed up
our fridge.” These were ordinary people with no political agenda, and
no axe to grind.
They were outraged that no-one knew about these things. This was the
second recurring theme. They were astonished by the wall of silence in
the media. Their experiences were never reflected nor reported on the
TV. The violence they experienced and the occupation of their villages
was never mentioned. On the contrary there was enormous media
distortion of the facts. Even the newspapers that were supposed to
support them, like the Daily Mirror, talked about the violence of the
pickets but kept quiet about the brutality of the so-called forces of
law and order. Of course, this was also the case on the TV news and the
BBC. One miner commented “I’m in my forties and I have never been in
trouble, I have never even had a parking ticket.” This was not an
exceptional case but the norm. One family, the Boyles, had four members
arrested and consequently they lost their jobs. They were arrested for
besetting. They, like the rest of us, had never heard of such a law, it
was dragged out of the history books as another weapon with which to
hammer the miners. These experiences profoundly disturbed people’s
preconceptions and their whole outlook.
Not even the leaders of the Labour Party and the TUC would speak up
for the miners. It seems they were too afraid of the press turning on
them and attacking them. Of course they did that anyway no matter how
respectable they tried to be. In the end it was the failure of these
leaders that resulted in the miners being beaten.
Around this time I was put in touch with Mark Jones, the father of
David Jones who was killed on the picket line during the strike. He was
very cautious about speaking to me at first. Understandably so, I could
easily just be another journalist like the ones that had lied about the
miners throughout the strike.
We ended up talking for about three hours. In all honesty my initial
motive was to get material for my production. Our conversation was so
moving I was in two minds about using any of it in the show. Then I
thought, maybe we should use all of it. It was such an impressive and
broad-ranging political analysis. He spoke not just about the strike
but about international matters and about socialism in a powerful and
moving way. He said, for example, how he would like “to meet Nelson
Mandela, because despite his hardships he refused to sign away his
principles, and demonstrated outstanding bravery”. This was perfect as
a speech to end the show.
We also included the very moving words of Lillian Womersley whose
son Paul was one of three youngsters who died on a slag heap. When did
you ever hear about them? Never. If in normal times three youngsters
were to die from falling down a well or something it would be all over
the news, but because this was related to the strike nothing was said
about these tragedies.
The play (Enemies Within) was a huge success at the Young Vic,
perhaps not because of the numbers who attended – it was on in August –
but because of its impact on them, including the coach-loads of miners
who came down and heard their own words spoken back to them from a
stage. Mark Jones’ speech at the end was especially powerful.
Margot, who appeared in the show – and I have remained close friends
with Mark and his wife Doreen ever since. Every year we attend the
David Jones memorial lecture in Barnsley.
Which brings us to the film Faith. Originally this was the project
of Antonia Bird a brilliant producer and director, but because of a
series of delays at the BBC, Antonia had already taken another job so a
director was needed, which is where I came in.
The script by Billy Ivory was already in development but not
finished. I wanted the piece to achieve two central things. The
personal stories and political events must be intertwined. The personal
story could not exist without the political situation, but also these
individuals were in turn trying to affect history. There must be a
dialectical interplay between the two.
At the same time it had to be very clear that this is a fictional
account. The halfway-house you find in many docudramas would not be
suitable here, the lines must not be blurred. The kind of method used
in The Government Inspector (a recent Channel Four dramatisation of the
death of weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly) for example, which was
excellent, would have been inappropriate in this circumstance. This was
not the David Jones Story. These events were events that could have
happened. They were plausible in the situation but nevertheless
fictional. This gives the piece integrity and at the same time freedom,
as a piece of art, to go beyond the literal. In that way, for example,
Gary’s (one of the piece’s four central characters, a striking miner)
return to the picket line and then immediately meeting his death become
symbolic of all struggle not just of this particular strike.
For this reason the selection and use of archive material needed to
be very thorough. The images used needed to be truthful and accurate,
historically and in terms of their emotional force.
So we decided to put dates on each of the fictional events in the
lives of the characters in order that they coincided with the correct
period in the strike, and with the correct references and archive film.
The Orgreave footage, for example, coincided with Thatcher’s speech
denouncing the miners as the “Enemies Within”. This was the second
battle at Orgreave, and a great deal of research went in to making sure
that the footage, quotes and speeches were not introduced out of their
context but only alongside the appropriate period in the strike, and
the same period in the lives of the characters in the film. This was
necessary for the reasons I have given, but, in addition, the BBC
lawyers insisted on absolute accuracy.
That answers the nonsense of the Tories and others about the
film’s bias. As you have already pointed out there is no such thing as
the spurious objectivity they appeal to (although never display
themselves). What other reactions have you had from those who could be
considered opponents of the strike?
One interesting story comes from the police. I spoke to a Chief
Constable in the north east who was responsible for organising some of
the policing of the strike and asked him if our portrayal of the
surveillance carried out on Michele (another of the central characters,
Michele is married to Gary and becomes politically active during the
strike) was accurate. Whilst he couldn’t comment on any specific cases
he said he would be surprised and disappointed if there weren’t such
cases because that would have meant that the police weren’t doing their
For my part, I needed to be able to look Mark and Doreen Jones in
the eye. A miner dies at the end of this film, on the picket line. This
was not about their son, but nonetheless it required complete integrity.
You have explained the use of archive footage giving realism
to the fictional drama. To what extent were the local community, miners
and ex-miners involved?
The first period was spent working on the script with Billy, and
with the supporting artists – what most people tend to call extras.
Professional actors prefer to be called supporting artists. We
recruited from the local community. Notices were put up in pubs and
workingmen’s clubs. This was cleared with the union, Equity, and they
were all paid Equity rates for their work. We held acting workshops in
the evenings. These took place in a local pub, The Fox, thanks to its
very helpful landlord Tony Clegg. We had an artistic philosophy to
follow as well as a political one. That is, we made it very clear to
everyone that they were all as important as one another in the
production whether in a lead role or a supporting one and therefore we
all have to work to the same standards. We held Stanislavsky workshops.
We had to go through what was involved in great detail.
To begin with none of the miners or ex-miners would play a
policeman, and, well, there was no chance of playing a scab. This is
very understandable, but we tried to explain what is called the
super-objective of the piece. That is, that since the overall purpose
of the piece was to tell the miners’ story, then whatever part you play
is working toward a good end, in this context even playing a scab is
We did a lot of work improvising and ‘hot-seating’ – interviewing
and cross examining people ‘in character’ – these people had never
acted before, many weren’t used to openly expressing their emotions, or
even to speaking in public, in front of other people. Take Glynn
Courtney who played Mickey Edwards. Glynn was an ex-miner, and I asked
if he would like to play the role of Mickey, who travels back to work
as a scab on a coach but is talked out of it by the pickets. He said he
would love to play it. Acting is all about empathy, understanding what
it is like to be another person, at the same time some people confuse
drama with reality. I told him he had to be sure about playing this
role, but he said he trusted us to do it right, and, although he is not
on screen for long, it is a powerful performance.
The workshops continued until filming began. There were 350 at the
final workshop which was concerned with filming technique, what to
expect on the set etc. I asked for 5 volunteers to run workshops of
their own. They had seen how it was done. Three men and two women
volunteered, they ran their own workshop, and formed their own theatre
group – Gage Productions.
We ran a community arts project called “Have Faith” which went into
schools in Long Toft, Stainforth and Hatfield where we filmed. Parents
who had never even been into the schools before got involved. We set up
the Christmas scene in the school and taught them about events in the
strike, then we set up the Christmas party and filmed it.
The aim was to make it impossible to tell the difference between the staged version and the real thing, archive film.
David Odd was the Director of Photography, and he had been a
documentary camera-man during the strike. Our methodology was to film
it as if it was then. We had some books of photos from the strike
produced by Newsline and others, and these were very powerful images.
We would pass the photos around and improvise around the scenes they
depicted, bringing the photos to life.
Lesley Hutchison played a vital dual role as archive researcher and
supporting artist co-ordinator. I have worked with her for over twenty
years at the RSC and so on, staging big battle scenes like in
Coriolanus, for example. There were big battles here too. It was
important that these scenes had a psychological truth as well as a
theatrical one. So in her research she was immersed in the images of
the strike, with a memory bank full of images.
Then we did something which is pretty unique. There were 436
supporting artists altogether and we gave them all a character. We
worked out the detail of who they were. Take the Miners’ Support Group
women. We played out a scene with Christine Tremarco (who played
Michele) where I was with seven of the women in the canteen when
Christine came in so we got into character and started shouting at her
for being late and everyone joined in, but Christine didn’t know what
we were doing at first. She soon grasped it though. Then when you see
the women around Michele in the film, in the scene where she goes from
the audience up to the platform to speak in a meeting for the first
time, you see the women sat around her talking to her, shouting
encouragement, rather than just nodding, because these are real
Despite the nonsense of the Tories claims of bias, a great
strength of the drama is that while its politics are central, this is
not simple propaganda.
Some people want a drama to be straightforward political propaganda,
and those people were annoyed with Gary being a reluctant striker
rather than an activist. This however is the film’s sense of balance.
Not a spurious objectivity, telling ‘both sides of the story’, but a
balance of the real people involved in the struggle. Here was a man,
and there were many others like him, who found it very difficult to
strike, it went against every atom of his being not to be in work; he
was bored, skint and frustrated but he remains firm through class
His wife becomes politicised, getting more and more involved in the
support group, speaking at meetings, and being impressed by the
university educated Martin (who is later revealed as a turncoat and a
spy), who falls in love with her. Although that affair is never
consummated, the relationship between the two is important. The
question of the extra-marital affair (between Gary and Linda, his
wife’s sister who is married to his best friend Paul, a policeman) had
to be handled with great sensitivity, but it was important to the drama.
The character of Martin was a very difficult one. I carefully
prepared an entire history for him. He was 33 years old and had been a
student at Sussex University in 1968, the most radical college in the
most radical of times. He had been a genuine socialist, involved in one
or other of the Trotskyist groups that was around then. Years of
working in social services had worn him down. He had been bought off at
some stage, and of course from then on he is hooked for fear of
exposure. That’s how the security services work. So he had had to
rationalise his own betrayal. This is the stuff he spits at Michele in
the scene near the end of the film where she discovers his treachery.
He really is in love with her. He has lost all faith. She has not.
As soon as she got the part of Michele, Christine attended the 20th
anniversary conference of the Women’s Groups at Wortley Hall. This was
her first introduction to the situation. It was perfect, she was able
to meet the real people involved, and at the same time the conference
itself was an inspiration. It was completely outward looking, with
visitors from Cuba, Iran, and American miners. Bernadette Devlin spoke
particularly passionately about Iraq.
The actors who played the four central characters were very
dedicated. We went up to Yorkshire to rehearse a week before filming. I
suggested to Jamie ( Jamie Draven who plays Gary) that he go up a week
earlier to meet people, go around the pubs and just chat to people, and
he did so at his own expense and made a lot of friends.. The whole
situation got inside them by the end.
The captions on the screen at the end of the film (in which details
are given of those who died in the dispute along with other facts that
have emerged since including the admission by mi5 that surveillance and
spying took place) presented us with a very difficult and complicated
question. First of all it had to be very precise and very accurate. In
relation to the safety man who died whilst working down a pit, for
example, we had to make it very clear that this was not a scab but a
man carrying out necessary and agreed safety work.
Then was the thorny question of the taxi driver (killed by a boulder
dropped from a bridge above while carrying a scab as a passenger in his
cab). Some of those I spoke to were adamant that his name should not be
included. This is a very emotive question. I turned for advice to Mark
Jones, a man who surely more than most had a right to an opinion on
this question. His view was clear. This man was a victim of the dispute
and a victim of the Tories too, he has a family like everyone else. To
not include him would be to sink to the level of the Tories. If this
had been simply a monument to the miners his name would have been
omitted but it was not just that.
It reminds me of the difficulties that used to arise over whether or
not to work in South Africa under Apartheid. Some took the view that it
was wrong at all times on point of principle. I always thought the best
approach was to ask the ANC what they thought in each separate case.
Asking Mark Jones here was similar to that approach. I also asked Ann
Scargill, who agreed that his name should be included but not in any
When filming ended instead of rushing off home as usually happens we
organised a ‘Have Faith’ celebration. This was to thank the supporting
artists and all those that had helped. We performed the screenplay as
if it was a theatre piece, which is quite an unusual thing to do. Half
the original cast of ‘Enemies Within’ came up and we performed that
too. Twenty years on it is still a fantastic piece of theatre. The
verbatim method is very powerful. Of course some of the predictions
that were made in those words turned out not to be true, but they were
all recognisable, that is how it was then. Gage also put on their own
show about the strike and then we had a social event. Finally, the
screening of the film took place in Yorkshire not in London as is
usually the case. 200 of the supporting artists came to see it in a
cinema in Sheffield.
Before we finish – and there is a lot more to discuss so I
hope we are able to meet again to talk about many other subjects –
there is a general election coming up, what are your opinions, how
would you define your own political outlook?
I can’t bring myself to campaign for Labour this time. They had the
facts in front of them, yet they voted for this outrageous war. We all
knew there were no weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, did you know
anyone who didn’t know that, who believed they would find these
My local MP voted for the war in Iraq. It’s obscene. I am attracted
by the idea of strategic voting, to be honest. It is ironic that I
agree more with the ten points the Liberals claim to stand on than what
Blair says. Still a Labour government with a much reduced majority
giving power to those opposed to the leadership, to more radical
elements in the House of Commons and to backbench revolts would be the
best outcome. But Blair has to go.
Ultimately what is required is worldwide socialism. An international
socialism but it must be democratic, it must have elected governments.
These days the word socialist has become almost meaningless to many
people. It is like religion, you can say that you are a Christian
without upholding or believing any of the things any of the different
churches say. In the same way even someone like John Prescott can claim
to be a socialist of one kind or another.
Whether you are a socialist, a communist, or a Marxist, the
important thing is what you do, not what label you wear. Where are you
when a strike takes place? Which side are you on in a struggle and what
do you do about it?
My hopes are with young people. The youth are the key to the future.
As you get older you become used to living under capitalism because it
is all you have ever known, but the youth are not used to it yet. They
care about the important things, about saving the planet, about war,
international events, about the big picture. That is where hope lies.
The youth can and will change the world.