Brassed Off is set in the British mining town of Grimley. The town’s colliery (coal plant) is its lifeblood and its backbone. It’s even the reason for the existence of the local band — the Grimley Colliery Brass Band. Needless to say, when the colliery is threatened, the whole town feels threatened.
The movie opens after it has been announced that Grimley is on the list of mines being considered for shutdown. Two of the band members head off for their last practice with the band. The instability of the situation at the colliery won’t allow them the luxury of paying their band dues, and the feeling is common among the band members.
The band isn’t dead yet, but the only things that keep them going are the determination of Danny the bandleader (a moving, if melodramatic, Pete Postlethwaite), and the surprise arrival of a pretty young woman (Gloria, played by Tara Fitzgerald) who wants to join the band.
The movie uses the band as a way to introduce the audience to the town of Grimley and to the plight of miners all over Britain who are losing their jobs. The movie is unapologetically pro-labor and anti-Tory, but the tone is righteously angry, not just preachy. Once the movie hooks you, it shows you all the division, pain, anger, and loss that a plant closing in a one-industry town can cause.
But the townspeople are not just victims who get wiped out. The movie also shows how people cope and survive during economic peril, the brass band serving as a positive outlet for their frustrations.
The movie does a good job of keeping track of many characters, each adding to the collective sense of community. Postlethwaite obviously stands out as a star, and a subplot involving Gloria and Andy (Ewan McGregor), gets a fair amount of screen time, but the rest of the movie is nicely episodic, never lingering on any one person or story for too long.
The movie is very message-heavy without feeling too heavy-handed, though I can’t imagine British conservatives appreciating the movie at all. Perhaps it’s hard as an American to feel manipulated one way or the other about an issue so far removed from daily life. In this country the movie plays as a bittersweetly charming movie. It’s a nice change of pace from the blaring summer action fare.
But because of the biting condemnation of Thatcherism, I wonder if perhaps it was intended as something else.