***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.