Brassed Off

UK - 1996

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

At the beginning of "Brassed Off", the Grimley Colliery Brass band is just that - brassed off being Yorkshire slang for ticked off - and they have every reason to be. Grimely is a mining town and here in Margaret Thatcher's England, Madame Prime Minister is closing pits right and left in the name of fixing the economy. While this may look like a good proposition at 10 Downing Street, in Grimley, and other towns like it where the economy depends on coal, the net effect is a sharp rise on the misery index, personal and economic. Rumblings about disbanding begin as soon as a bogus profitability study is announced to determine if the mine is worth keeping open. The miners know that closing is a foregone conclusion and their resentment at being lied to is almost as great as their fear of what will happen to them when it happens

The band, whose century-long history is full of awards, is the last source of real pride for its members, and for the town itself. Problem is, if the mine closes, the no one can afford to be in it. It's a situation whose poignancy is brought home when one band member says that the only time people listen to him is when he plays. He's talking here not just about his wife, driven over the edge at the prospect of his impending unemployment, but also about the British public's indifference to their plight.

Even as it muses on the evils of Thatcherism, "Brassed Off" also considers personal politics. There's a sly love story between band members Tara Fitzgerald, as a hometown girl back after many years away, and Ewan MacGregor, as a soon to be ex-miner. But the heart of the story is the relationship between the band's conductor, Danny, played with preternaturally imposing presence by Pete Postlethwaite, and his son Phil, played with big-hearted haplessness by Steve Tompkinson. By using them as a focus, and with a dash or two of deft absurdity, screenwriter Mark Herman dissects the real cost of a government whose policies devalue and discard human beings. Beyond the indictments, though, he also shows the grit of people with an indefatigable capacity for hope.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 5/28/97

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