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Brassed Off

Director:
Mark Herman

Writer:
Mark Herman

Cast:
Pete Postlethwaite – Danny
Tara Fitzgerald – Gloria
Ewan McGregor – Andy
Stephen Tompkinson – Phil
Jim Carter – Harry
Philip Jackson – Jim
Peter Martin – Ernie

Country:
UK, USA

Language:
English

Release Dates:
UK: 1 November 1996
USA: 23 May 1997

Awards:
1997 BAFTA Awards: Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film (Nominated), Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music – Trevor Jones (Nominated), Best Original Screenplay – Mark Herman
1997 Emden International Film Festival (Germany): Emden Film Award
1997 Evening Standard British Film Awards: Peter Sellers Award for Comedy – Mark Herman
1997 London Critics Circle Film Awards: British Actor of the Year – Ewan McGregor
1997 Paris Film Festival: Grand Prix
1997 Tokyo International Film Festival: Special Jury Prize
1997 Writers’ Guild of Great Britain: Film – Screenplay: Mark Herman
1998 German Film Awards: Best Foreign Film
1998 Goya Awards: Best European Film
1998 Guild of German Art House Cinemas: Guild Film Award – Silver: Foreign Film
1998 Guldbagge Awards: Best Foreign Film (Nominated)
1998 Lumiere Awards, France: Best Foreign Film
1998 César Awards, France: Best Foreign Film
1999 Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards: Silver Condor – Best Foreign Film (Nominated)

Ratings:
UK – 15
USA – R
Canada – 14A (Ontario)
IMDB – 7.1/10
Metacritic – 60/100
Netflix – 3.5/5
Rotten Tomatoes – 79% (Fresh)

Tara Fitzgerald and Pete Postlethwaite

Brassed Off starts by displaying some dictionary definitions:

Tôr’y n. & a., (colloq or derog.)
(Member) of British Conservative party, e.g. Margaret Thatcher.

Cô’llier~y n., (chiefly British.)
A coal mine or ‘pit’, one of many closed by Tory government.
(SEE ALSO RELATED WORDS: Nuclear Power Station, one of many opened by Tories.)

Rėdŭ’nd~ancy n., (frequently British.)
Forced retirement, severance pay as offered to miners by Tories.
(SEE: HOBSON’S CHOICE)

Brass~ed ŏff adj., (colloq.) (British slang)
Dejected, fed up, upset, generally pissed off.
(SEE: MINERS)

At least the version that I’m watching does, I don’t know if the same thing was done for UK distribution or not. I knew all those terms except for “colliery.” There are many other words that they could have put up that would have been helpful for us Amuricans, for example:

Bloody: A mild expletive attributive, possibly derived from the Blood of Christ or the Virgin Mary, but who bloody knows?

Bugger: A foolish person, possibly also a heretic or sodomite.

Bugger all: Nothing (See: Fuck all)

Daft: Not too bleeding bright (See: Soft)

Flower: A term of endearment (See: Tara Fitzgerald)

Fuck all: Nothing (See: Bugger all)

Owt: Aught, anything (See: Nowt)

Nowt: Naught, nothing (See: Owt)

Soft: Not the sharpest tool in the bloody shed (See: Daft)

Summat: Something

And my favorite, bollocks: Nonsense, bull shit (also balls, and not the football kind).

That’s what I love about watching foreign films, you learn so much and you get to add a word like “bollocks” to your vocabulary.

With these definitions, before the opening credits (remember those?) even start, it’s clear that this isn’t going to just be a light rom-com from across the pond. It is funny, and touching, but there is also a very angry political statement here. Much more political than most American romantic comedys would dare get, I think.

The backdrop of Brassed Off is the fictional South Yorkshire town of Grimley. The town, colliery, and the colliery band are all based on the real town of Grimethorpe and their award winning band. I won’t pretend to understand or be able to explain the program of coal pit closings that took place during the Tory governments, but there were a lot. Hence the anger that bubbles up in this movie, with good reason I might add. Let’s just say that if Maggie Thatcher actually had a heart, this movie would send it racing.

As far as colliery bands go, I had no idea. Apparently there has been a long tradition throughout the coal industry of miners starting bands as a leisure activity, and even though most of the pits have been closed the bands continue on. I have no way of knowing this, but I wonder if part of the idea behind starting brass bands was to keep the miner’s lungs healthy. Anyway, the actual Grimethorpe Colliery Band provides the band music in the movie and it’s pretty great.

In the first few minutes of the movie we meet a group of five mine workers, all of whom play in the band and are concerned about the possible closure of the mine: Jim and Ernie (Philip Jackson and Peter Martin) are steeling themselves to resign from the band at the encouragement of their wives. Harry (Jim Carter) is having marital (and hairstyle) problems, Andy (Ewan McGregor) is single but apparently supports the guy at the local pub that he constantly loses to at pool, and Phil (Stephen Tompkinson, fantastic performance) is torn between his wife’s pressure to take the payout and his loyalty to the mine and to his Dad, Danny the band leader.

Philip Jackson (Jim), Peter Martin (Ernie), Stephen Tompkinson (Phil), Jim Carter (Harry), and Ewan McGregor (Andy)

Danny is played by Pete Postlethwaite, who died earlier this year. He was one of those great character actors whose face is a road map of struggle and emotional mileage, and you just believe everything he says. McGregor and Fitzgerald are the up and coming (at the time) stars but Postlethwaite is the glue that holds the movie together just like Danny holds the band together.

Music, and specifically the colliery band, is Danny’s life. While it’s not specifically stated, we don’t see a wife and we don’t see Danny going to work, so we are left to assume that he’s retired and maybe a widower. While everyone else in the band is ready to pack it in if the mine closes, Danny feels that the music is what’s important and that the band should live on.

During band rehearsal one night, a young lady named Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) shows up with her flugelhorn. Turns out she’s from Grimley and the granddaughter of an old miner and band-mate. Danny lets her sit in and she turns out to be a great musician. With her addition to the band, Danny thinks they have a chance to make it in upcoming brass band competitions and go through to the finals at Albert Hall.

Gloria and Andy have a past, well, part of a past. An affair back when they were teenagers, but “top half only” and understandably Andy would like to pick up where they left off. But Gloria has a secret, what is she doing back in town? Whose side is she on?

Some of the characters could be a little better developed, especially Andy who actually comes across as kind of a weasel in regards to his feelings for Gloria. Phil and his financial problems could be explained a little better, but it’s a very good movie and it makes me interested in checking out more of Mark Herman’s work.

I won’t spoil any surprises, but the movie is part romance, part “little guys make good,” and part an angry political statement against the Conservative Thatcher and Major governments. It all works quite well, you literally will laugh and cry. There’s a scene where Danny has run into a spot of bother and his band-mates all gather around his window with their instruments and lighted miner’s helmets and play “Danny Boy.” If that scene doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then bollocks to you.

The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:

The performances are good, the music is good, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. I’ll give it a…

Tom Servo

Random Quote Whore Quote:

Brassed Off is a honied, periodontal, reconnection of a movie! Pete Postlethwaite is filar!!!

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

Oh…I forgot. Brassed Off inspired this song by Chumbawamba. Danny’s climactic speech is played at the beginning.

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