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Brassed Off (1996)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Brassed Off (1996)
35mm, colour, 107 mins
DirectorMark Herman
Production CompaniesChannel Four Television Corporation
 Prominent Features
 Miramax Films
ProducerSteve Abbott
ScreenplayMark Herman
PhotographyAndy Collins
MusicTrevor Jones

Cast: Pete Postlethwaite (Danny); Tara Fitzgerald (Gloria); Ewan McGregor (Andy); Jim Carter (Harry); Ken Colley (Greasley); Peter Gunn (Simmo)

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Against a backdrop of pit closures in the early 1990s, the miners of Grimley Colliery prepare for a forthcoming national competition for their brass band.

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Released towards the end of John Major's Conservative administration (which in 1992, the year the film is set, had tolled the death knell for much of Britain's coal industry), Brassed Off was billed as a comedy, but the humour is constantly undermined by palpable anger about the wasted lives and ravaged communities left in the wake of the 1984 strike and the subsequent pit closures. The film makes no secret of its explicitly anti-Thatcher politics, which may have cost it the box office success enjoyed by the gentler The Full Monty (d. Peter Cattaneo, 1997) a few months later, though in most other respects the films have more in common than otherwise.

The fictional town of Grimley (actually filmed in Barnsley, north Yorkshire) is famous for two things: its colliery and its 111-year-old brass band. The latter, run by Pete Postlethwaite's sternly perfectionist martinet Danny, is in training for a competition at the Royal Albert Hall, rendered doubly important by the fact that it may be the band's last chance for glory before it goes the way of the pit. A thousand workers are threatened with the dole, and while a severance package has been offered, the more militant miners believe that they should reject it on principle, in the hope of a last-minute reprieve.

The human drama at its core revolves around two relationships. The more conventional one is between NUM activist Andy and student researcher (and flugelhorn player) Gloria, their romance undermined by his discovery that her research is actually being carried out on behalf of a government agency responsible for "rationalising" the pits. But the emotional core of the film is embodied by Phil, Danny's son, who can no longer afford to play in the band (which has a weekly subscription charge as well as the cost of instrument maintenance) but who lacks the courage to pull out. Instead, he takes on various additional jobs that generally end in disaster, notably his turn as a circus clown whose nickname, Chuckles, couldn't be more inappropriate, especially when he delivers a bitter political tirade in the middle of a children's party.

The sometimes uneasy balance between comedy, tragedy and political grandstanding is considerably leavened by a superb music score (performed on the soundtrack by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, one of the film's real-life inspirations), which offers up brass-band renditions of Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez' and 'Danny Boy'.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Rehearsal (5:04)
2. A clown's tears (2:57)
3. Betrayal (3:55)
Occupy! (1976)
Fitzgerald, Tara (1967-)
McGregor, Ewan (1971-)
Postlethwaite, Pete (1945-2011)
Channel 4 and Film
From Pit to Screen
King Coal
Miners Above Ground