Postlethwaite's Brass Band is not the Pits

The truth is, I thought it mattered - I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter - Danny

Pete Postlethwaite as Danny in Brassed Off (1996)

"Brassed Off" is quite a clever movie because Mark Herman who writes and directs has a message he wants to get across, a message about how the Tory government ruined towns and villages when they closed the coal pits. But a movie just about how the closure of a coal pit affects a village isn't going to be entertaining and could feel like just a political diatribe so what Herman does is combine it with a comedy drama about the miners' brass band and its fight to keep going. The two stories run in parallel and the problems that the band face represent in some way the problems which the miners and the village face. It makes "Brassed Off" an entertaining movie which still manages to get across how devastating the closure of the coal mines was under the Tory government.

Having been in existence form 1881 the Grimley Colliery Brass band has been around as long at the coal mine. But with the coal mine now under threat of closure the outlook for the band is not good despite having a chance to reach the National Brass Band Finals. Whilst some of the men are getting ready to quit the band their minds are changed when the attractive young Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) shows up in town and joins the band as a flugelhorn player. As band leader Danny (Pete Postlethwaite - When Saturday Comes) tries to knock the band into shape whilst the men threat about whether their mine will be shut young Andy (Ewan McGregor - Shallow Grave) finds himself falling for Gloria, but who exactly is Gloria?

Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald in Brassed Off (1996)

It has to be said that whilst Herman does give us a look at how hard things were for the miners as they faced unemployment, showing how it affects, the individuals, the families and the whole community the focus of "Brassed Off" is very much the brass band under the leadership of Danny. As such it has to be said that there are a lot of cliche elements going on from the big competition which the band have a chance of winning, the sudden illness of Danny and also a romantic subplot. But it doesn't make "Brassed Off" a bad movie in fact it makes it an enjoyable movie and an uplifting one as we watch the trials and tribulations of the band as to whether they will even compete in the major competition or let alone win it.

Not all of this band drama works and the romantic subplot between Andy and Gloria, who returns to the village and joins the band, feels incredibly weak. In fact it feels like it's been thrown into the storyline so that the movie would have a couple of young actors to broaden it's appeal as a movie about old men who play brass instruments doesn't really sound that great. But whilst there are elements that don't work, and the romance is just one of them, all in all the drama of the band coupled with the more serious drama of the coal mine being under threat works. It achieves the right balance so that whilst something makes you laugh one moment the realisation of how a pit closure affects everyone comes striking through the next and Mark Herman doesn't restrain himself from showing how devastating it can be.

As for the political side of things well that is the only thing which feels wrong because through out "Brassed Off" we understand how wrong the pit closures were, how decisions were made long before a pit even knew it was at threat and that works. But then Herman throws in what should be a hard hitting speech right at the end to hammer home the message but it goes one step too far and feels very forced and ultimately out of place. It's as if Herman felt that what he had achieved in the actual story wasn't clear enough and had to make his feelings about what the government was doing crystal clear.

Now I have never really been a fan of brass band music, it always seemed a bit dull but the soundtrack to "Brassed Off" is absolutely brilliant. There are many great scenes where the sound of the brass instruments playing really deliver atmosphere and meaning such as renditions of "Danny Boy" and "Land of Hope and Glory". But I have to say the rendition of "En Aranjuez con tu amor" or "Orange Juice" as it is amusingly known is magnificent and so moving making for a spellbinding scene.

As for the acting well for the most it is solid with several established British actors such as Jim Carter, Philip Jackson and Peter Martin all delivering amusing performances as members of the band whilst Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald and to some extent Stephen Tompkinson give it a more youthful feel. And whilst they all deliver amusing performances they also manage to deliver the emotional side of what it was like for the miners as they faced unemployment and their lives changing for ever.

But to be honest "Brassed Off" belongs to Pete Postlethwaite as Danny the leader of the band. Whilst Danny isn't a complex character, he is a man who lives for the band and music, Postlethwaite brings him to life making him real with various ticks and really getting across a sense of a proud man. It is Postlethwaite's performance which turns "Brassed Off" from an amusing social drama into something more and something so memorable.

What this all boils down to is that "Brassed Off" is a very good movie because for the most it gets the balance right so that whilst we have comedy we also get the message that pit closures under the Tory Government were devastating. It does feel occasionally forced and the romantic element feels almost out of place but on the whole it works and you will be smiling at countless amusing scenes. But it is the powerful emotional soundtrack and a brilliant performance from Pete Postlethwaite as Danny which takes it from being a good movie to a very good movie.

Tags: British Romantic Comedies

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