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Brassed Off (1996)

Film review: Brassed Off (1996), written and directed by Mark Herman

The miners of Grimley, somewhere in Yorkshire, have a brass band. It’s the pride and joy of band leader Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), but times are tough and the colliery is threatened with closure. Money is tight and some of the miners are considering dropping out of the band.

One day, young Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) shows up and wants to practice with them. She’s new in town, even though she grew up there, but she’s the granddaughter of a former band member, so she’s accepted into the fold. Young Andy (Ewan McGregor) is instantly taken with her – indeed, they had a bit of a fumble back when they were both teenagers. Can they re-kindle an old flame?

The question on everyone’s mind, however, is if the pit is going to stay open, if they’ll have any jobs to go to in the morning – and whether or not they can get the band to the finals in Albert Hall …

Also starring Stephen Tompkinson as Phil, Jim Carter as Harry, Philip Jackson as Jim and Peter Martin as Ernie, with Melanie Hill as Sandra, Sue Johnston as Vera and Mary Healey as Ida.

We recently played Scene It, and Brassed Off was the answer to one of the picture rounds. I remembered having seen the film many years ago, but not that much about it, so when it came on Film4, I decided to see it again. There was something about a brass band and a romance, right? And wasn’t it some sort of comedy? Basically, my expectations were more The Full Monty than … this.

There are some lighthearted moments in Brassed Off, sure, but the film as a whole is heartbreaking. There were tears in my eyes many times over the course of the film, because it’s not a happy film. It’s about people losing their jobs and their hope, their families, their health … They’re fighting against an uncaring employer, and all they have left is the music, and that isn’t going to pay the bills when the debt collector comes knocking.

It’s an incredibly emotional film. Maybe it’s because I live in a county that used to be booming with mines, but that now is only full of closed down collieries. Maybe it’s simply because I have a better understanding of the plight of the workers now than when I was 14 (or so), and realise what being out of a job and out of money can do to your spirit.

The most touching scene in the film is when they’re playing outside the hospital, for one of their fallen comrades, but Phil, dressed up as a clown and suffering a complete breakdown will also make your heart burst into a thousand pieces.

It’s not an easy film to watch, but at the same time, it’s fantastic. The acting is first class, especially from Postlethwaite and Tompkinson, but the ensemble in general is great. The music also deserves a mention, naturally, and that’s beautifully played too, by the real Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

A very, very good film. Just a very sad one.

4.5 out of 5 headlamps.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

4 thoughts on “Brassed Off (1996)

  1. Oh, I’m sure I’d like this one! I’m from a mining town ( not coal) and I.love music , so it sounds right up my alley! Love your reviews!

    1. Thanks. 🙂 The only real complaint I could find at a casual glance on the IMDb boards was that they didn’t always carry their instruments in cases … that’s about it. And that’s just nitpicking, really.

  2. Saw this when it was in theaters and just loved it, precisely because the plot is arc is *so* realistic. It’s not beautiful b/c it could never happen, but because it is a simulacrum of the kind of thing that happened to so many after the 1980s (and not just in the UK). A highlight of the “New British Cinema” — great scripts, great acting, low budgets, super product.

    1. Yeah, it doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. If it did, it would probably have spoiled the whole film, even though you would have been left with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Now you just end up with very mixed emotions. But it’s better that way.

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