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Portrait of a Miner (1966)


Main image of Portrait of a Miner (1966)
35mm, black and white, 29 mins
DirectorRichard Mason
Production CompanyNational Coal Board Film Unit
ProducerFrancis Gysin
PhotographyRon Bicker

The working day, ambitions and hopes of a modern coalminer.

Show full synopsis

This is a portrait of Pat Leigh, a robust yet poignant figure, who means very different things to the different people whose lives he touches. The story is intercut with direct-to-camera interjections summing Pat up - from his wife, priest, pit manager, parents and former football coach amongst others. Their perceptions range from "If his brains were dynamite they wouldn't blow his bloody hat off" to expressions of love.

The film's style is boldly impressionistic in spite of its conventional narrative structure, following a day in Pat's life. It is the details at the edges of his life and routines that are focussed upon, rather than any attempt to make an instructional film about the work of a miner. The sequence in which the miners journey from the surface down to the coalface shows them tease one other, read out racy stories, play cards and reminisce. Some of the joking is of its time: one young lad with long hair is warned that he needs to be "careful" or he'll end up in the family way.

The 'man of today' that the film attempts to depict is shown to have dreams of sporting glory and mild sexual fantasies in the course of a working day. The film offers a distinctive portrayal of working- class masculinity in the 1960s. It provides a vivid contrast to the dignified portrayal of human labour exemplified by the British documentary movement - as does its experimental technique, influenced much more by contemporary cinema than by documentary forbears.

This is the only film which the director, Richard Mason, made in the UK - he spent the rest of his career in Australia and the US. It is also a one-off in terms of its approach to its subject, and in its beguiling nature together with a lack of clear purpose. The film was shot at Thoresby Colliery, one of the few pits in the UK which remains operational today.

Ros Cranston

*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 (27:48)
Miners (1976)
King Coal
The National Coal Board - The Documentaries