The Big Meeting




A loving portrait of the annual day which stands out in Durham's calendar.

Big Meeting, The


The changing face of documentary cinema is neatly illustrated by the way in which a famous annual event in Durham has been brought to the screen. The Miners' Gala established in 1871 and held regularly since then on the second Saturday in July was the subject of a short film which made an impact in 1963, John Irwin's Gala Day. Now, in contrast to that piece lasting 25 minutes, it becomes the subject of this full-length feature, The Big Meeting. This new treatment is the work of Daniel Draper who does in fact acknowledge the earlier film and even includes John Irwin among the interviewees invited to remark on the event. Quite often Draper follows the style of Asif Kapadia in featuring comments contained in voice overs accompanied by suitable images of the gala - it's a mixture since talking heads, Irwin among them, are by no means excluded (like the film itself it's a judicious blend).


Draper's film is no run-of-the-mill documentary as is quickly apparent given a pre-credit sequence that makes good use of the local countryside accompanied by a recording of Paul Robeson singing 'Deep River'. Thereafter the main emphasis is on the 2018 event as captured by fifteen cameras with expert editing by Christie Allanson and with further variety supplied by several sequences of split screen images (the photography by Allan Melia is quality work too). But, if the experiences of the day are central, there is still    time for such intriguing side issues as paintings by a range of artists that can be categorised as 'Mining Art' and information supplied about the long history of the occasion incorporating much old black and white footage.


Brass bands have always played a key role so that regional culture is part of what is being celebrated, but so of course is the mining industry which had a central role in the community and now makes the Gala Day a draw for trade unionists and for socialists. The old pictures seen here afford glimpses of many leading Labour politicians of the post-war years (indeed, we learn that Tony Blair was the only party leader not to make Durham's great day important in his calendar). Inevitably, Jeremy Corbyn makes an appearance but more briefly than one might expect.


But, whatever the trimmings, The Big Meeting essentially follows the day through chronologically with the entry into Durham Cathedral replete with banners providing a climax. However, the film goes on from there as the crowds start to disperse and the later scenes feed my feeling that Draper allows his film to go on for too long. At the close, there are a number of off-screen voices summarising what exactly the gala day most means for them, but the impact would have been stronger had these comments been limited to the most telling of all. It's only fair to add, however, that I regard myself as somebody who is largely apolitical, so my belief that the film would gain from a more succinct approach during the last 15 minutes or so may well not be shared by all. Indeed, I can safely declare that those with a much stronger attachment to the subject matter will decide that Daniel Draper has not let them down.




Featuring  Charlotte Austin,  Heather Ward, Laura Daly, Robert McManners, Emma Shankland, Stephen Guy, John Irvin, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Lynn Gibson, Dennis Skinner, Liam Young.


Dir Daniel Draper, Pro Christie Allanson and Daniel Draper, Screenplay Daniel Draper, Ph Allan Melia, Ed Christie Allanson, Music Patrick Dineen.


Shut Out The Light-Shut Out The Light.
91 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 6 September 2019. Cert. 12A.