Thursday, November 23, 2006

Brassed Off

1996, UK, directed by Mark Herman

One of the angriest, and perhaps one of the best, British films of the 1990s, Brassed Off gulls you with the promise of a Northern comedy in the mould of The Full Monty, complete with a romantic subplot, and rams those expectations back down your throat as it delivers a blistering attack on the dismantling of the British coalmining industry by the Thatcher government (and its successors). The film focuses particularly on the communities affected by hundreds of pit closures, and paints a vivid picture of the crumbling of one small town faced with the end of its mining industry - and as a consequence, much of its community fabric, exemplified by the local brass band.

The film shares the same unpatronising view of working class life as the films of Ken Loach, and although there's a small amount of sugar-coating, the sense of anger and hopelessness isn't radically different. Director Mark Herman, who has returned to similar territory a number of times with less success, judiciously balances the comic and dramatic elements, creating a real sense of the human consequences on single-industry towns; the closing sequences, filled with fury and pride, are extremely moving, without the film ever losing its bitter sense of humour. Pete Postlethwaite delivers one of his finest performances as the stubborn conductor of the brass band, with able support from a large gathering of character actors; Postlethwaite's climactic speech is, even on film, a show-stopper (I first saw the film in a packed cinema in Leeds, where clearly more than a couple of people in the audience identified with the onscreen action).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States