The recent near-expurgation of Tories from British political life may take some of the wind out of "Brassed Off," a very earnest David vs. Goliath tale that also pitches art vs. livelihood and Margaret Thatcher vs. the rest of humanity. But not to worry. It's got plenty of wind to spare.
Written and directed by Mark Herman--last seen perpetrating the Bronson Pinchot comedy "Blame It on the Bellboy"--"Brassed Off" takes place in the aptly named town of Grimley, where the Thatcher government is preparing to close the local coal mine. This will effectively render the town obsolete, its people unemployable, its families torn asunder and the local brass band defunct--not necessarily in that order.
To the band's conductor, Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), the Grimley Colliery Band is not just the town's major concern, it's the only concern. Oblivious to the upcoming "redundancy" vote in which the town's miners will decide whether to keep the colliery open or take a government buyout, Danny is intent on taking the band to the national finals at Albert Hall, even as his players--including his son Phil (Stephen Tompkinson)--are busy watching their world collapse.
Postlethwaite is terrifically moving and "Brassed Off" is his movie, even if Andy and Gloria--played by Ewan McGregor ("Trainspotting," "Emma") and Tara Fitzgerald ("Hear My Song," "Sirens," "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill . . .")--dominate the action as each other's love interest. They are fine, and fine together, despite their mini-crisis. Gloria, unbeknownst to anyone in town, works for the British Coal Board, which poses obvious problems for miner and horn player Andy. But it's Postlethwaite's Danny who represents all the movie's key themes: the self-absorption of art, the art of self-absorption and the Nero-esque disposition of a British public whose industry is being kicked out from under it.
The difficulty is that "Brassed Off" operates at an emotional pitch that starts at a crescendo and never relents--rendering almost everything equally inconsequential. When local-girl-made-good Gloria adds her fluegelhorn to the colliery band--playing an excerpt from Roderigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" as if she were conservatory-trained--we have an emotional peak. When the band plays "Danny Boy" outside Danny's hospital room--"black lung" having laid him low--we have another (given that the group can make a 12-by-20 room sound like Carnegie Hall, the question becomes: If not mining, why not a world tour?).
When Andy plays pool to redeem his horn from a local hustler and thus make the trip to the finals, we have one more irresistible catharsis. And at the end, there are so many emotional peaks you might feel like one of Thatcher's miners--manipulated, misled and maneuvered into an emotional corner. Sloppily dubbed (to avoid moments of troublesome dialect) and equally sentimental, "Brassed Off" provides a colorful cast of characters, but its tone is never as casual as it should be. The vulgarity is too deliberate, the jokes too forced. This kind of thing has been done well, of course, but not necessarily here.
Brassed Off, 1997. R, for language. A Steve Abbott/Prominent Features production, released by Miramax Films and Channel Four Films. Director Mark Herman. Producer Steve Abbott. Screenplay by Herman. Cinematographer Andy Collins. Editor Mike Ellis. Costumes Amy Roberts. Music Trevor Jones. Production design Don Taylor. Running time:1 hour, 47 minutes. Ewan McGregor as Andy. Tara Fitzgerald as Gloria. Pete Postlethwaite as Danny. Stephen Tompkinson as Phil. Jim Carter as Harry. Melanie Hill as Sandra.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times