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 colliery band 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 couldn’t recall that much about it, so when it came up 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 along the lines of 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 won’t pay the bills when the debt collectors come knocking.
It’s an incredibly emotional film. Maybe it’s because I live in a county that used to be booming with mines back in the day, 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 by the real Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
A very, very good film. Just a very sad one.
4.5 out of 5 headlamps.