Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mark Herman|
|Produced by||Steve Abbott|
|Written by||Mark Herman|
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Editing by||Michael Ellis|
Channel Four Films
|Distributed by||Channel Four Films (UK)
Miramax Films (US)
|Running time||107 min.|
|Box office||₤3 million|
Brassed Off is a 1996 British comedy-drama film written and directed by Mark Herman and starring Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor. The film, a British-American co-production made between the Monty Python production company Prominent Features, Channel Four Films and Miramax Films, is about the troubles faced by a colliery brass band, following the closure of their pit. The soundtrack for the film was provided by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and the plot is based on Grimethorpe's own struggles against pit closures. It is generally very positively received for its role in promoting brass bands and their music. Parts of the film make reference to the huge increase in suicides that resulted from the end of the coal industry in Britain, and the struggle to retain hope in the circumstances.
Channel 4 and The Guardian both sponsored what was expected to be a low-profile film; it was not expected to gain the wide audience that it has and the film does not make explicit the political background to the plot. In Britain the film was well received as a comedy, and by some as a political statement about the state of traditional coal mining communities in the country; the American marketing for the film (and later VHS and DVD releases) portrays it as a cheerful romantic comedy with nearly no mention at all about the musical or political elements.
Brassed Off was particularly well received in former mining communities, who felt it accurately reflected the suffering they faced because of the decline of their industry during the years of the Thatcher and Major Conservative governments. It is set during the latter period, when Michael Heseltine presided over a huge programme of pit closures, as President of the Board of Trade.
The film is set in "Grimley" in the mid-1990s — a thinly disguised version of the real South Yorkshire village of Grimethorpe, which had been named as the poorest village in Britain two years earlier by the European Union. The nearby areas of the Dearne Valley and the Hemsworth area were also identified as in need of serious aid. Indeed, the soundtrack for the film was recorded by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, the story roughly reflects Grimethorpe Colliery Band's history, and the film was largely shot in Grimethorpe. The Grimley Colliery Band in the film is made up of a mixture of actors and members of the Grimethorpe Band.
The miners in the film put up little resistance to the coal board's harsh redundancy policy. This can be understood in the context of the 1984-85 British miners' strike, which effectively destroyed trade union power in British coal mining industry. The film depicts the spirit of hopelessness 10 years after the strike, and the miners' attempts to find redemption. An ongoing piece of symbolism in the first half of the film is the lack of conversation between one miner and his wife, until she finally criticises him harshly for not making a show of resistance against the closure, when he had been so full of fight in 1984.
Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) has been sent to her old hometown of Grimley to determine the profitability of the pit for the management of British Coal. She also plays the flugelhorn brilliantly, and is allowed to play with the local brass band, made up of miners from whom she must conceal her purpose. She renews a childhood romance with Andy (Ewan McGregor), which soon leads to complications. It is later revealed during a confrontation between Gloria and the management of the colliery that the decision to close the colliery had been made two years previously, and that this was to have gone ahead regardless of the findings of her report; the report simply being a P.R. exercise to placate the miners and members of the public sympathetic to their plight.
The passionate band conductor, Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), finds he is fighting a losing battle to keep the rest of the band members committed. His son Phil (Stephen Tompkinson) is badly in debt and becomes a clown for children's parties, but fails to prevent his wife and children walking out on him. As Danny, (who is earlier seen coughing coal dust into a handkerchief) collapses in the street and is hospitalised from pneumoconiosis or a similar disease, Phil, who is later revealed to be struggling with the guilt of having voted to take a lump sum rather than fight the closure of the colliery, has a breakdown while entertaining a group of children as part of a harvest festival in a church. Saying he doesn't know much about harvest festival, he offers to tell a story about God, which descends into a foul-mouthed satire about how the Tory Party was created (having been informed there was a surplus of bodies but no brains, hearts and vocal cords, God gave instructions to "Sew 'em up anyway. Smack smiles on their faces and make them talk out their arses.") then, after being asked to leave, and being told "May God forgive you." gestures towards the effigy of Jesus on the cross and asks what he's playing at, letting his dad be ill while Margaret Thatcher lives - "What the bloody hell's He playing at?" before parting with "You've been great. My name's Coco the Scab." Later he attempts suicide by trying to hang himself from the girders of one of the colliery's winding towers. He is spotted, still in his clown costume, by two security guards who, it is assumed, save him. Danny, lying in a hospital bed, notices Phil's clown shoes as he is pushed by the door to his ward on a trolley. While talking in the hospital, Phil reveals to Danny that in light of the colliery's closure, the band has decided not to continue playing.
With the intention that it will be their last performance, the band, (in full uniform, and wearing their miner's helmets and cap lamps) play "Danny Boy" late at night outside the hospital. Andy, having pawned his tenor horn, whistles along with his hands in his pockets. After they finish, they all switch off their lamps.
As the colliery itself is finally closed, the band finds success in the national brass band competition. Andy wins his tenor horn back in a game of pool, and having forgiven Gloria, after she gives them the money she was paid to compile the report, (saying she doesn't want it because it's "dirty money") the band travel to the final at the Royal Albert Hall in London, (Birmingham Town Hall was used to film these scenes)  where they are amused by the woman on the P.A. system in the dressing room's inability to pronounce colliery, with an older band member remarking "I bet she's glad the bugger's closed." Before departing, Phil leaves a note for Danny, which is found on the bed by a nurse along with Danny's pajamas the next morning. The note simply says: "WE'RE GOING!" Danny arrives, in uniform, just in time to see the band win the competition with a stirring rendition of "The William Tell Overture", during which Phil notices his wife and children are in the audience. Danny refuses to accept the trophy stating that it's only human beings that matter and not music or the trophy and that "...this bloody government has systematically destroyed an entire industry. OUR industry. And not just our industry— our communities, our homes, our lives. All in the name of 'progress'. And for a few lousy bob". However, despite this moving gesture, another band member takes away the giant cup with a typical Yorkshire "Don't talk so soft". The film ends with Andy and Gloria kissing passionately on the upper deck of an open topped bus travelling through London, while the rest of the band play Land of Hope and Glory conducted by Danny.
|Stephen Moore||McKenzie (the colliery's manager)|
The soundtrack for Brassed Off is officially composed by Trevor Jones although some titles existed before Jones' commission as original compositions for brass band or arrangements, for example "Death or Glory" and "Floral Dance" respectively.
- "Death or Glory" – Robert Browne Hall
- "A Sad Old Day"
- "Floral Dance" – Katie Moss
- "Aforementioned Essential Items"
- "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor" – Joaquín Rodrigo
- "Years of Coal"
- "March of the Cobblers" – Bob Barrett & Edrich Siebert
- "There's More Important Things in Life"
- "Cross of Honour" – William Rimmer
- "Jerusalem" – Hubert Parry
- "Florentiner March" – Julius Fučík
- "Irish Tune from County Derry" ( Danny Boy) – Percy Grainger
- "We'll Find a Way"
- "Clog Dance" – John Marcangelo
- "Colonel Bogey" – Kenneth Alford
- "All Things Bright and Beautiful" – William Henry Monk arranged D.Rimmer
- "William Tell Overture" – Gioachino Rossini arranged G.J. Grant
- "Honest Decent Human Beings"
- "Pomp and Circumstance" – Edward Elgar arranged Ord Hume
In popular culture
A sample of a monologue performed by the main character Danny (Pete Postlethwaite) is used in the opening of the song Tubthumping, on the 1997 Chumbawamba album Tubthumper: "Truth is, I thought it mattered; I thought that music mattered. But does it bollocks! Not compared to how people matter". The album also ends with the final lines of the same monologue: "Oh, aye, they can knock out a bloody good tune, but what the f--k does that matter? Now I'm going to take my boys out onto the town. Thank you."