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Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) DVD

aka The NCB Film Unit Collection, Various (Documentary), 1978

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Film Details

Directed by Various (Documentary)

Produced in 1978

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

This first volume of films from the National Coal Board Film Unit is part of a three-year project from the BFI, This Working Life, which looks at Britain’s 20th century industrial heritage on screen. Further volumes, on shipbuilding and steel – are planned. This first volume however, Portrait of a Miner, looks at coal, ‘the bedrock of British wealth and welfare’ as it is described in the 1952 film, Plan for Coal.

The core of the collection is Mining Review, the monthly industry cinemagazine that ran between 1947-83, and which offers a wealth of material, covering subjects as diverse as pit ponies, machinery, juvenile marching bands, whippet racing and women’s football teams (here from Grimethorpe colliery). Also visited are the ‘pitmen painters’ of the Ashington Art Group and Jack Cardiff as he films Sons and Lovers at Brinsley colliery. Some of the monthly issues offer telling period detail, such as the pioneering establishment of a health centre for miners and their families before the formation of the NHS, and the yearly holiday in a model village - a now disappeared world of egg-and-spoon races and running washed nappies through the mangle.

Other films range from straight documentaries to strange and oddly unnerving health and safety films. Songs of the Coalfields are exactly those, sung by Ewan MacColl and Isla Cameron, while Miners is a sombre portrait of a working life underground from 1976, filmed at Bagworth colliery in Leicestershire, which emphasises the darkness and sounds of work lit only by the beams from head lamps. The Shovel, not unexpectedly, traces the tool’s history from a shoulder blade in the Orkneys to the various present types and their uses and concludes with valuable lessons in the art of effective shovelling (which has more to it than you might imagine), while Arthur Clears the Air is a charming colour drama made to promote The National Coal Board Housewarming Plan. It turns from domestic drama into an extravagant ball sequence at which Mrs Smedley - now Cinderella - is the belle, with the other guests including a number of figures representing the various types of clean-burning coal that she will be able to use as soon as Arthur fixes the fireplace.

The standout title though is Richard Mason’s Portrait of a Miner (1966), an impressionistic half-hour portait of a miner’s thoughts, fears and longings as he works his shift at Nottinghamshire's Thoresby colliery, mixed with direct-to-camera addresses by people in his life. It leaves plenty unsaid and offers an evocative snapshot of one day from the middle of many. Mind you, its subject would not have let his attention wander so easily had he seen the extraordinary Man Failure - a cautionary tale on the dangers of daydreaming at work, which leads here to bloody finger loss and - in the case of old Joe, escaping from young Pat's below ground tales of skinny-dipping and naked motorbike riding with a blonde hitch-hiker - exhaustion and death.

A far lighter approach to health and safety comes with Hands, Knees and Bumps-a-Daisy, an animation accompanied by an inimitable commentary to fellow blokies and worklemates by Stanley Unwin, in which he stresses the deep importlude of safety glovery and knee paddery.

Overall, this is a valuable companion volume to the collections of films from the British Transport and GPO Film Units.

Graeme Hobbs on 24th August 2009
Author of 297 reviews

Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1)

Film Description

The first collection of these wonderfully diverse and entertaining films from the National Coal Board Film Unit is released as part of a major new BFI project, 'This Working Life' - an ambitious three-year project that will explore and celebrate Britain’s 20th century industrial heritage on screen and its impact on our social, economic and political life. Beginning with coal mining, it will continue with the shipbuilding and steel industries in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Elemental, visual, dramatic: coal mining is not only deeply cinematic, but as a huge part of British life for centuries, has profoundly shaped our society. The Portrait of a Miner collection showcases and celebrates the extraordinary work of the National Coal Board Film Unit which operated from 1947-1984, producing films to inform, entertain and galvanise working people across the country.

From intimate drama-documentaries and sublime safety cartoons to the sheer pleasure of the topical tales from the Mining Review cinemagazine, this collection is a beguiling invitation into the domestic, community and working life of miners and their families.

With stories from coal fields across Scotland, Wales and England – from pit ponies to brass bands, cutter loaders to the five-day week – this 2-disc set presents over 5 hours of re-mastered material, and contains an extensive bound book featuring newly commissioned contributions from Lee Hall (writer of Billy Elliot), the BFI’s curators and other researchers.

Disc One: Mining Review 1st Year No 1 (1947), King Coal (1948), Nines Was Standing (1950), 'Miners Health Centre', from Mining Review 2nd Year No 3 (1948), Mining Review 2nd Year No 10 (1949), Mining Review 2nd Year No 12 (1949), Plan for Coal (1952), The Shovel (1953), 'Time Out' from Mining Review 7th Year No 8 (1954), 'Balletomines' from Mining Review 7th Year No 12 (1954), 'Hungarians in Britain' from Mining Review 10th Year No 8 (1957), New Power In Their Hands (1959), Mining Review 13th Year No 4 (1959), 'Stormy Genius' from Mining Review 13th Year No 8 (1960), Arthur Clears the Air (1961), 'Whitehaven Whippets' from Mining Review 15th Year No 7 (1962), Mining Review 16th Year No 6 (1963); Disc Two: Songs of the Coalfields (1964), Big Job (1965), Portrait of a Miner (1966), Nobody’s Face (1966), The First Adventures of ‘Thud and Blunder’ (1964), Mining Review 20th Year No 9 (1967), Hands, Knees and Bumps a Daisy (1969), Mining Review 22nd Year No 5 (1969), What About That Job? (Case Studies for Management No 1) (1970), The Bother Breeder (Case Studies for Management No 4) (1970), Man Failure (1971), I’ll See You (Too Late Now No 2) (1976), A Beautiful Memory (Too Late Now No 3) (1976), You Pick the Moment (Too Late Now No 4) (1976), Miners (1976), Review 32nd Year No 1 (1978), and 40 Years On (1978).

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Publisher: BFI

Length: 347 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD B&W

Region: 2

Released: 21st September 2009

Cat No: BFIVD851

DVD Extras

  • Booklet with essays and extensive film notes.

Film Stills

Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1) Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection (Volume 1)

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