A rich seam of solidarity in The Big Meeting

Thursday, 5th September 2019 — By Dan Carrier

The Big Meeting

Directed by Daniel Draper
Certificate PG

The intensely pleasing sound of a colliery band playing Abide With Me sets the tone for this terrific love letter to a part of our world that has an intensely rich story to tell.

On every second Saturday in July, the Durham Miners’ Association host their gala: it has been running for 135 years and in The Big Meeting, we are invited
to watch the gorgeous city of Durham fill with 200,000 people.

The gala is described by film-maker Daniel Draper as “an annual celebration of noise, colour and solidarity, of class culture, creativity and endeavour,” and it has been perfectly captured in this documentary that is a mixture of interviews with those who are involved and a potted history of the industrial north.

The grandchildren of the pit workers talk about the effect life in coal mining areas had on their communities, and discuss the demise of coal. While the idea of the industrial community appears to be intensely romantic, the film is not starry-eyed: the reality of life in pit villages is laid bare.

“They loved being part of a mining community, but they loved Planet Earth more – they’d be glad no one today would have to go two miles down into dirt and darkness,” says one miner’s granddaughter. They’d rather be in a field in the sunshine.”

Of course, the crucial plank are the colliery bands who provide the soundtrack – simply beautiful.

Above all, The Big Meeting is not just a behind-the-scenes look at the Durham Miners Gala, nor an industrial/social history, but a celebration of its place in the UK cultural landscape today.

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