Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Brassed Off (5 Stars)

Like "Tamara Drewe", "Brassed Off" is a film about a woman who returns to her home town after a long absence. As in "Tamara Drewe" the woman's looks have improved greatly while she was away. In both films the woman drives the men crazy when she returns. That seems to be a popular theme in British films.

Tara Fitzgerald plays Gloria Mullins, a woman who left the north England industrial town Grimley to go to university. After that she took a job at British Coal as an administrative worker. In 1994, after an absence of 10 years, she's sent to Grimley to write a report on the profitability of the Grimley Coal Mine. The Tory government has already decided to close the mine, so her report will never be read. It's just something that has to be done so that British Coal can't be accused of being unfair.

Even though the government has made the decision, the miners are given a chance to vote on it. If they vote to close the mine they'll be paid £23,000 severance pay. If they vote to keep the mine open the executives will decide, and if they decide to close the mine the miners will only receive £15,000 severance pay.

When I was younger I couldn't care less about coal mines. To me they were big dirty pits whose workers die young. Now that I'm older I have a sentimental attachment to them. Both of my grandfathers were miners. My father's father was a miner all his life. My mother's father was a miner in his early years, but he changed careers after the Second World War. First he owned a betting shop. After that he trained to be a nurse, and he worked in a mental hospital for the rest of his life. I regret that I don't know more about his life. I visited my grandparents a lot when I was a child, and he was a nurse all the time I knew him. I should have asked him more questions. My grandfather died when I was 16, my grandmother died when I was 22. Years later I asked my mother about them, and all that she said was, "Your grandfather was a very good man, but your grandmother was a wicked woman". That was it.

"Brassed Off" is a more complex film than "Tamara Drewe". There are different plots intertwined. It's a love story. It's a political story. It's a social drama. It's a film about music. All four factors are of equal importance, which is what makes the film so powerful. The film's title refers to the Grimley Colliery Brass Band. It's an all-male brass band made up of miners that has been in existence since 1881. In exceptional circumstances women and non-miners are allowed to be members, but only if they were born in Grimley. Gloria Mullins is such an exception. She's the granddaughter of Arthur Mullins, the best trumpet player who was ever in the band. As the only woman in the band she's the centre of attention.

All everyone talks about in Grimley is the closing of the coal mine. It's a poor town, and the mine is the only large employer. Nobody wants the mine to close, but they're afraid it will close anyway and are too afraid to vote against the closure. The only exception is the band's conductor, Danny Ormondroyd. For him music is all that matters. He says that even if the mine closes the band will continue to bring joy to the people of Grimley. His opinion isn't shared by the people who have difficulty putting food on the table.

I consider this to be the best film of Pete Postlethwaite's career. His naive enthusiasm for music is moving.

The film has so many other strengths. Apart from the perfect acting the scenery underlines the story. It's all about England, the working class England that I grew up in. I grew up in Walsall, not south Yorkshire where the fictional town of Grimley is located, but it's a similar town with similar streets. (The film was shot in Barnsley). Maybe the town is too English, which could be alienating to foreign viewers. I love it! I'm amazed that it was a box office failure. How could anyone not like this film?

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