The year is 1992. John Major succeeded Margaret Bloody Thatcher—this is how she is referred to in the film—as the UK’s prime minister in 1990. The closing of a profitable Yorkshire mine is under consideration, threatening its workers with unemployment and their mining village, Grimley, with extinction. There are memories of 1984, when Thatcher referred to striking union workers as “enemies,” implicitly, traitors. The National Union of Mineworkers was responding to proposed mine closings, and nuclear power-mad Thatcher rejected all their demands. In 1985, the strike ended in defeat, and by 1992 about a hundred mines had been closed. (By 1994, the rest were privatized.) Writer-director Mark Herman’s appealing and affecting Brassed Off adds the Grimley mine to the list. Although a romantic comedy that revolves around the Grimley Colliery Brass Band’s participation in a national competition, it includes painfully serious matter: the social holocaust of “redundancies,” including the decimation of families; the harsh legacy of mining as Danny (Pete Postlethwaite, wonderful), the band’s impassioned conductor, lies dying in a hospital from years of inhaling coal dust.
The glorious music we hear throughout the film, including a heartaching rendition of “Danny Boy,” is played by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, upon which the Grimley one is based.
This is a smart entertainment—and at times a messily sentimental one. It cleared a path for both The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997), which somewhat resembles it but which is more adept at individuating its characters, and Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldrey, 2000). Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald are lackluster in the romantic roles; but Stephen Tompkinson is good as Phil, Danny’s hard-luck son, whose financially strapped (large) family has him moonlighting as a clown at children’s birthday parties, at one of which he completely falls apart.
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