Iron Lady visits mining country

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A NEW film is raising interest - -and - hackles in South Yorkshire.

The name Thatcher is more often spat out than spoken within the broken mining communities of the Dearne, so a film about the former PM was bound to court controversy.

Rancour surfaced in the north as The Iron Lady premiered last week. At one screening, TUC veteran women chanted anger at a hated figure being celebrated as a Hollywood icon.

Cortonwood was the epicentre of the 1984 strike and bitterness is still rife in the area.

Ex-miners are disapproving of a film they feel sure will not reveal their truth about the Thatcher years and the impact of pit closures on men, families and communities.

Others just don’t want to know. They spend their time trying to forget and few have managed to forgive.

The film ,starring Meryl Streep gives the briefest of nods t,o the miners as its subject reminisces over her past. So will it stir up a storm in Barnsley when it premieres there later this month?

French journalist Laurent Rigolet came over from Paris to find out.

A seasoned and much-travelled cultural writer, Rigolet spent part of his 80s in the UK touring with Billy Bragg and Paul Weller. The ‘Red Wedge’ movement sought to engage young people with politics through music.

Now, as South Yorkshire labours under another Tory leadership, reaction to the new film could be explosive, he figured. Talks to former NUM miners and officials proved his point; they will never be for turning, or softening.

We introduced Laurent to former Cortonwood striker Don Keating, 65, and his wife Jackie, 58, whose book ‘Counting the Cost’ told of her family’s struggle through the strike and its aftermath.

After 17 years as a miner Don re-trained as a nurse, but recalls many who couldn’t move on.....the wife of one friend returned home one day to find her depressed husband hanging from the rafters.

Scores of families were torn apart by rift or hardship. The Keatings’ home village, Brampton, is split even today.

Strikers refuse to talk to men who went back to work. Windows are still pelted with eggs. Of 31 homes on their street, 29 were once occupied by striking miners.

Now households are more diverse; that’s good, but community spirit is weaker, said Jackie, as people work long hours and there’s no time for chat.

Jackie, a former Wombwell girl of a mining family stretching back generations, said: “Men relied on each other down the pit. Mining was their life. There was no other work. What I can’t forgive was the brutality of the pit closures.

“It was planned to hurt to the max.. How could a woman do what Thatcher did to families? I can’t see her as a human being”.

The final pit closure ‘broke Don’s heart’ he said. “Grown men were sobbing. It seemed as if they would never work again”.

If the film does any good for the Alzheimers’Society then that would be a plus point, said the couple, as they support the charity. But what, they ask, is the point of it otherwise?

They may now drag themselves along, but admit it could open wounds. “She may attract sympathy now but she was a despicable character. Her name is like a red rag to a bull”, added Don. “Where was her compassion? I always said I’d take a day off work when she dies and many say they’d dance on her grave....it’s not a nice thing to say. But people are still so angry”.

He recalls their son’s school, Wombwell High, in disrepair with ceilings held up by steel props. “She was so intent on smashing miners and unions, but why was none of the North Sea Oil money invested back here?” he asked.

Jackie feels many of today’s ills generate from that era and the “lack of caring for ordinary people”.

So far, reviews of The Iron Lady are mixed, but tend towards praise of Streep’s performance, rather than of the film itself.

Director Phyllida Lloyd who, when asked ‘why now’? about the film, purportedly replied ‘why not’?

It premieres in Barnsley at The Parkway Cinema on January 20.