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Daniel Draper is the film-maker who in 2017 made The Nature of the Beast, an affectionate tribute to Labour MP Dennis Skinner, and now he has directed this rich, heartfelt and intimate tribute to the Durham Miners’ gala, the trade union festival of brass band music, speeches and outdoor conviviality which has been held almost annually since 1871. It is a proud expression of working-class solidarity that has now been restored to the centre of Labour party culture with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, who is a keen gala attender.
Draper’s film persuasively shows that even after the pits have closed, a defiant and exuberant spirit importantly lives on in the gala. The merry-making and the music may once have been purely the icing on the cake of trade union business, but now increasingly it is the cake, it is the business. The cultural superstructure has now become the essential expression of determination to stand firm against the perennial threat of exploitation.
Now that the pure arrogance and recklessness of the Conservatives has been revealed, a vigorous alternative culture of the left – symbolised by the gala – is needed more than ever. The point of the gala is to celebrate extra-parliamentary traditions of social justice, though, as it happens, right now the point for the progressive left is surely to defend parliament against the riverboat gamblers and sociopath wreckers of the Brexiter right.
My favourite part of this documentary is the eloquent contribution from art historian Robert McManners, who gives a fascinating account of miners’ art that emerged from the north-east, collected in the book Shafts of Light. I’ve ordered my copy.
• The Big Meeting is released in the UK on 6 September.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Big Meeting review – heartfelt tribute to miners’ solidarity | Film