Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Miners (1976)


Main image of Miners (1976)
16mm, colour, 24 mins
DirectorPeter Pickering
Production CompanyNational Coal Board
ProducerDavid Pitt
PhotographyJames Howlett

How miners live and work, recounted in their own words and in the opinions of their wives.

Show full synopsis

Miners was explicitly conceived as the 1970s' take on what Portrait of a Miner (d. Richard Mason, 1966) and a 1950 film, The Miner, had attempted for their respective decades - basically, to rebrand 'The Miner'. Displacing from Britain's psyche an awe-, fear- and guilt-inspiring subterranean, mythical figure rooted in the lore of the Industrial Revolution and the General Strike, they depict instead a fellow citizen with whom viewers might empathise.

In each, the motive interacts with the mores and media of the moment. For the upright 1950s, The Miner was an austere classroom film. Miners swaps the startling coalfield existentialism of the 1960s Portrait of a Miner for a deceptively simple, but somehow equally philosophical, more mature study of the faceworker's relationship to his work and worlds. It also ditches New Wave trappings for TV technique. Perennially constrained by technology, with Miners the NCB filmmakers bring mobile 16mm colour shooting to the cages, shafts, tunnels and conveyers they'd long negotiated. Darkness and light, ambience and speech are subtly layered into an absorbing composite. So are industrial and domestic, male and female spaces. The presence, visual and aural, of miners' wives adds the crucial dimension to a standard-issue elegy to masculine camaraderie.

Interestingly all three prestige productions were shot in the Midlands, an atypically productive, prosperous coal region. Bagworth, Leicestershire, where Miners was made, was one of the most sophisticated, high-output collieries in Europe. Mention is made of advanced hardware and exceeded targets but the ideological focus is on newer issues. With shades of the defensive defiance of New Power In Their Hands (d. Alun Falconer, 1959), transposed to a newly turbulent decade, Miners seeks to validate the economic case for a workforce in receipt of significant victories from two national strikes (against the film's sponsor!). Equally, it documents families integrating into the general community, increasingly embracing middle-class lifestyles. Such social changes went further, faster, in the East Midlands than anywhere else, a factor in their defiance of the 1984 strike, during which Bagworth remained resolutely open. It closed in 1991 (whereas Portrait's Thoresby has survived the industry's contraction and privatisation to this day).

In 1976, such history lay ahead, and isn't directly predicted by the film. Borrowing journalism's tools for an assignment that can't, in truth, claim to be objective reportage, Miners instead constitutes public relations of the most honourable kind - a civic statement of its makers' truest instincts.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection Volume 1'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (23:52)
New Power in Their Hands (1959)
Portrait of a Miner (1966)
The National Coal Board - The Documentaries