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UK 1996
Directed by
Mark Herman
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Brassed Off

Instead of taking a Mike Leigh social realist approach to his subject,  writer/director Mark Herman’s film about the demise of the British coal industry and South Yorkshire’s Grimley Colliery specifically goes in the opposite direction and opts for a feelgood, and to be honest, egregiously sentimental,  treatment .  It was a successful strategy and the film was a huge hit, its very characteristically British style of diffident triumphalism having spawned many similar films since.

Grimley Colliery is under threat of closure and that means unemployment for more than 1000 miners.  Despite this Danny (Pete Postlethwaite) the conductor of the Grimley Colliery Brass Band insists that there is nothing more important than winning the National Championships.  The men are not convinced but  when pretty young trumpet player, Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald), a former Grimley girl arrives on the scene the men, not least of all Andy (Ewan McGregor), get a new lease of life.

Herman’s well-turned script focuses on a handful of miners and in particular, the stories of Danny and his  adult son, Phil (Stephen Tompkinson), a family man struggling to make ends meet  and Andy and Gloria, former childhood sweethearts. The former is used to address the various serious issues involved and state the film’s rousing anti-Thatcher message about the destruction of communities. The latter is an incongruous insertion of movie-world romanticism with McGregor and Fitzgerald providing an improbably photogenic pair of love-birds (the upside of such “enhancements” is that the colliery band sounds a lot better than it would have had realism been a criterion).  

Ironically it is the more realistic aspects of the film which give it its staying power.  Pete Postlethwaite turns in a cracking performance despite the formulaic conception of his character and he is supported by a strong cast of British character actors who bring the affectionately portrayed working class setting with its drab housing estates, pints and fish and chips, to life.

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