Brassed Off

on May 23, 1997 by Bridget Byrne
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Like the music it celebrates, "Brassed Off" is in-your-face yet sentimental, rousing yet sad, defiant but full of heart. Set in a Yorkshire village where the local coal workers are being made redundant, this movie uses the sound, fury and feeling of a colliery brass band as its weapon of war. Though Mark Herman's script occasionally sounds too calculatedly polemic, he has drawn from his excellent actors performances that expose--both with humor and grief--the truth of the community's struggle to stay alive and viable in the face of government indifference.
The dignity of the band leader ("Dragonheart's" Pete Postlethwaite) who has channeled all his passion into a sole obsession--that it's the music that really matters--sets the tone for the film, which (despite the blunt colloquial humor that marks its U.K. spot of the map) tackles the universal theme of the rights of man. And woman. For it is the return of a local lass made good (who just happens to play the flugelhorn) who raises the testosterone and then the hackles of the bandsmen, setting the story in motion. Though the part is somewhat underwritten, Tara Fitzgerald ("Sirens") is fine as the young woman whose success has put her, unwillingly, on the wrong side of the conflict but never out of the heart of the young coalworker facing a bleak future, played--with more impact than the part provides--by Ewan McGregor ("Trainspotting").
Stephen Tompkinson as Danny's son, wrenched hardest by all the conflicts of emotion and circumstance, matches up impressively to a role that demands he appear tragic while wearing giant clown's feet. Among the supporting cast, Jim Carter, Philip Jackson and Melanie Hill bring real individuality to people who, quite literally, have the ground on which they stand, live, breathe and earn their daily bread taken out from under them.
The Grimethrope Colliery Brass Band stands in for the fictional Grimley band. Their music binds and boosts the story, helping to cover some cliches of plot and character and injecting the passion of an important message as this journey of survival wends its way from rehearsal hall to village green to hospital car park to city center and finally to London's Albert Hall. Starring Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, Ewan McGregor and Stephen Tompkinson. Directed and written by Mark Herman. Produced by Steve Abbott. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 107 min
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