Retro Review: Brassed Off (1996)

***No real spoilers***

Sometimes, the ‘small’ films are the best. They may not create a storm on the international market, win awards, or plaudits for the cast. But they stay with you, enter your heart and soul, and strike a chord within you that can never be reached by the biggest blockbuster, or Oscar-winning classic. When the British make a very good film, few others can do it better. This is a fine example of just that, and one of the greatest little films I have ever seen.

The setting may be unfamiliar to those outside of Britain. Sorry about that, as it works so well, if you happen to be English. Ten years after the devastating miners’ strikes, mines are still closing. Private owners are taking over, and taking on the unions too. The Conservatives are still in power, and the traditional mining towns in the north of England are facing imminent disaster, with the closure of the last remaining pits. But they have hope, and a diversion too. That is supplied by their love of brass band music, traditionally associated with the different collieries around the UK. After a hard day at work, the band members will lose themselves in wonderful renditions of different styles of music, played on their beloved brass instruments. At weekends, they will compete against other northern brass bands, hopefully getting to the grand finals in London.

Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald looking very young and attractive) has been sent back to her (fictional) home town of Grimley, in the north of England. She is working undercover for the industry, seeking to establish whether the mine there should close, or remain open. She meets up with her former boyfriend, Andy, (Ewan McGregor) who is still working as a miner. He plays in the brass band, and Gloria auditions for a role too. Despite never having had a female member, the band are impressed with her undoubted talents, and she is accepted. Getting to know the rest of the miners, and becoming attached to Andy again makes her undercover job difficult, and her emotions are torn. The band leader, Danny, (a wonderful turn from Pete Postlethwaite) is struggling to keep his band motivated, and is also seriously ill.

Most of the film concerns the break up and reformation of the band, as they enter a regional competition to win a place in the Grand Finals in London. Gloria throws herself into helping them, as even though it seems the fate of the mine is sealed, they still have the desire to go out with a winning performance. This film works at almost every level imaginable. The locations are superb, the script sparing and sharp, and the political points are made, but not hammered home uncomfortably. Then there is the music of course, with the band’s performances supplied by a real mining band, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. It harps back to the golden age of British cinema, with often laugh out loud moments contrasted by genuinely powerful emotions, real warmth, and a cast of wonderful characters you will really care about.

As well as those already mentioned, acting talent in abundance is supplied by Jim Carter, Philip Jackson, Stephen Tompkinson, Melanie Hill, and Sue Johnston. One of the finest British films ever made.

In addition to the official trailer, I am including a clip of Gloria’s audition. Please watch that too, because the music in that is one of my favourite pieces, the Concerto D’Aranjuez, and it is fantastic.

42 thoughts on “Retro Review: Brassed Off (1996)

  1. I loved this film, but then of course I was growing up in this era and even went to see a few brass bands at the time, the golden age of Bridhouse and Rsstick 🙂
    I must have a dig around and have another watch, see what Gosia makes of it, as you say a very British film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, Eddy. Those northern bands were an anachronism to me, as a Londoner. But using the theme of the band dying along with the local mine was so effective, I thought this film was simply marvellous.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Phenomenal review, Pete! I think short films and even short books can be the ones we hold closest to our hearts. I mean there is always ones to criticize that but if it’s a wonderful experience, length doesn’t matter. I love your enthusiasm for this film, it shows with your review! I am going to have to hop on Kodi after catching up on reviews and watch this right away. Thanks so much for sharing this fantastic post with us!😘💜🎥🎆

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A beautiful piece of music of Pete. Ever noticed that American trailers for British films just don’t sound right. I have fond memories of this film and that black pencil skirt. While it is a funny film for the most part it is heartbreakingly sad too and honest about the plight of its characters. The speech at the end has always stuck with me and I think it is why so many people hold Pete Postlethwaite in their heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good cinema translates and crosses boundaries, oceans and cultures. Yes I’m sure that if you’re English you appreciate it even more. I don’t know how you feel about The Full Monty Pete, but I really enjoyed it. This one sounds like it’s on par but, from your exuberance and others who have replied, it may be better. I’ll give it a look. Happily.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pam, it is in the same area as the Full Monty, with the political edge, and a first-rate (and well known here) cast. But I believe it has even more heart, and better acting, with a nostalgic feel that money can’t buy, yet good acting can recreate. I’m a cynical man, believe me. But this small film touched my heart like few others.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not a horrible name if you are English, Cindy. We ‘get it’, as brassed off also means ‘pissed off’.
      It is better than I can ever review, but maybe you might need an English Soul to really appreciate it. You will have to let me know…Remember my Top Ten Films of all time?This was very nearly in there. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  5. I know Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” very well. Tara Fitzgerald did a good job of making us believe she was playing the instrument. I’ve never heard of this film, but I thought the editing was great, and Tara is very charming.

    Liked by 1 person

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