Brassed Off is one of the best British films of the nineties, perhaps second only to Trainspotting in terms of homespun cinematic genius.
Brassed Off is one of the best British films of
the nineties, perhaps second only to Trainspotting in terms of homespun cinematic
genius. Set in the fictional South Yorkshire
village of Grimley (obviously intended as the real life Grimethorpe, where much
of the film was shot and which at the time was the poorest village in the UK)
the film follows a local miners’ brass band as they face financial hardships,
and struggle for motivation when it comes to work, family and even the will to
live, let alone keeping up their music.
Pete Postlethwaite’s star has hardly shone brighter than it does
here. He plays bandleader Danny, whose
coal-filled lungs are only one of a number of problems threatening the
existence of the band, the primary one being the imminent closure of the
village pit, should its workers vote for redundancy over a financial viability
review. All the musicians are
agreed: should the pit close and they lose their jobs, then they will disband
forever. Music is first and foremost in Danny’s heart however, and he spurs the
jaded men on to compete in the National Brass Band Championships, eyeing the
final at the Royal Albert Hall with anticipated pride.
Director Mark Herman (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) expertly guides his audience on a
journey of emotional highs and lows, making it impossible not to be cheering
the band on as they fight to stay together and compete in the nationals. The political message is mostly of the
non-preachy kind, making it easy to sympathise with the trials of these men who
face losing their jobs in the pits, with the script being loosely based on
recent historical fact.
The weakest subplot is
the romance between Andy and Gloria, played by Ewan McGregor and Tara
Fitzgerald. Thankfully this
thread of the story is not overplayed, and more time is given to the gut
wrenchingly emotional subplot that follows Danny’s son, Phil, who is locked in
a downward spiral as he loses everything near and dear to him. Even his dignity is left in tatters, as
he has to resort to performing as a clown for children’s parties to keep the
wolf from the door (barely). Stephen Tompkinson fills the role with
such intensity that you can’t but watch his scenes with gritted teeth. Seeing him fume in full costume, red
nose, baggy trousers and all is a sight to behold, and almost as painfully
funny as it is moving. The script
takes this character to dark places indeed, only perhaps going too far during a
climactic rampage in a Church.
The drama is woven
between montages scored with sublime brass music, all performed by the actual
Grimethorpe Brass Band. This lends
the film a warmth and gives it great character, but the montages get a little
repetitive after the fourth or fifth one.
With hearty music that
gets the blood going, irresistible English humour, tiptop performances and a
powerful message, Brassed Off is a magnificent film and well worth a revisit.