English Title: Brassed Off
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: Channel 4, Miramax, Prominent Features/Channel 4
Director: Mark Herman
Screenplay: Mark Herman
Cinematographer: Andy Collins
Editor: Michael Ellis
Runtime: 107 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Social Realism
In the Yorkshire mining town of Grimley, the colliery band, led by Danny, struggles to find motivation to continue playing after their profitable pit is designated for closure. Gloria, who works for the pit managers, arrives back home in Grimley and tries to join the all-male band and rekindle her relationship with pit-worker and band-member Andy. As the band progresses through the heats of a national competition, miners stage angry protests and the devastating impact of the pit closure becomes apparent. For Danny, the competition becomes a matter of pride and of defiance, but Gloria's relationship to the pit management leaves the band vulnerable.
Brassed Off is typical of a number of socially-conscious mid-nineties British films, such as The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997), that construct a tragi-comedy from a cultural context shaped by industrial decline and male unemployment. Born in Yorkshire, writer and director Mark Herman knew only too well the devastating impact of de-industrialization on northern working-class communities. Brassed Off is a renunciation of Thatcherism and an indictment of the impact of economic reform on industrial working-class communities. It eulogizes the emotional lives and social communities of men that were forged in the industrialized workplace; the characters of family man Phil (Stephen Tompkinson) and band leader Danny (Pete Postlethwaite) offer a poignant critique of Thatcherism’s impoverishment of working-class communities and the effacement of working-class culture. Brassed Off emerged in 1996 at the outset of the wave of British cultural invigoration known as ‘Cool Britannia’, just prior to election of New Labour. It is also, then, infused with proto-Blairite optimism and a sentimental 'feel good' factor that appears at odds with its claims to serious political commentary.
Its more light-hearted romance plot balances the film’s sometimes heavy-handed political critique. When Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) arrives back in Grimley it is clear through her clothing, accent and mannerisms that she no longer truly belongs in the community and her employment by the pit managers leads to her being ostracized. The film positions Gloria as the naïve but well-meaning middle-class outsider whose formalized education and corporate knowledge is inferior to the miner’s experience at the literal coal face of industrial relations. Gloria's rehabilitation begins when she realizes that her managers have misled her; her loyalty to the miners allows her to become a viable love interest for Andy (Ewan McGregor).
For McGregor, Brassed Off came on the back of Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) and cemented his position at the forefront of a new generation of British talent. A departure from Renton's knowing nihilism, Andy is more typical of the masculinity-in-crisis narratives that were a staple of nineties’ British cinema. McGregor imbues Andy with a nervous charm and disarming sincerity, realizing the character’s deep-seated resignation with emotional candour. If Phil is the character through which the film explores the consequences of de-industrialization on men with children, then Andy articulates the effects of industrial decline on a younger generation.
Herman uses the climatic scenes of the film to return to his central political point when Danny delivers an impassioned speech about how years of Conservatism led to the men in the band ‘losing the will to live, to breathe’, none of them having ‘an ounce of hope left’. As with the strip scene at the end of The Full Monty, Brassed Off cannot offer any resolution to the problems it presents and relies on a poignant 'feel good' suspension of reality through collective celebration. Aboard an open-top bus, the band take to the streets of London and reprise the hymn 'Land Of Hope And Glory' in an era where no hope remains. The crowd cheers on regardless.
Author of this review: sarah godfrey
Peer reviewer: sarah godfrey