Queens of the Coal Age by Maxine Peake

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 4 November 2013
In 1993, almost a decade after Margaret Thatcher closed down most of the British mining industry, the remaining thirty-one pits were threatened with closure.  Four women, led by National Union of Mineworkers' president Arthur Scargill's wife Anne, went down a pit to protest, and stayed there for five days despite repeated attempts to evict them.  Eventually they came up due to lack of food and water, and the closure programme went ahead.
On the one hand this could be regarded as another defeat for the British working class by a Conservative government determined to exterminate them, but Justine Potter's production showed that it could be construed as a victory for solidarity, strength and the indomitable spirit of protest.  As portrayed by a cast including dramatist Peake and Julie Hesmondhalgh, the women came across as incredibly strong, despite the hardships involved.  Queens of the Coal Age can be seen as a feminist buddy-piece, showing the ways in which women stick together, but Potter's production reminded us of the political issues involved.  While experiencing moments of weakness, they revealed a collective strength that no one could vanquish.
The play was broadcast on the day that BBC Four television broadcast a documentary on a series of films made for thirty-six years by the National Coal Board, attesting to the strength of the mining industry.  Such material now evokes a bygone age, when working class communities really did count for a lot both inside and outside the workplace.  Queens of the Coal Age reminded us that such communities still exist, even though they might now be in different forms.