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'Brassed Off': The Band Plays On

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 30, 1997

The formula in "Brassed Off" is older than the Yorkshire moors, and cheesier than cheddar. In this English yarn, thick with northern working-class brogue, a group of brass-playing coal miners fight off the threat of a pit closure to enter a national music competition. Whether their determined path to the Royal Albert Hall will be successful or not is hardly a matter of deep mystery. But the movie, starring Pete Postlethwaite and Ewan McGregor, has memorable grace notes.

Of course, "grace" doesnít appropriately describe the drab dwelling places of the miners and their families. Wearing an unabashedly socialistic heart on its grimy sleeve, "Brassed Off" gives us a palpable sense of hardscrabble life in the disenfranchised north of England. Itís very clear how shutting down a coal mine can destroy an entire community. For a movie thatís essentially about as deep as "Rocky" or the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland flicks, thatís an unusual social backdrop.

If there is one entity that has withstood the test of time, it has been the Grimley Colliery Band. Over the years, generations of miners have found time, dedication and small change to keep the band going, no matter how dire the times. But now, in 1992, coal no longer fuels the British economy. And to the consternation of band leader Danny (Postlethwaite), this looks like the end of everything. With no jobs, thereíll be no band. The musicians, from old guard Harry (Jim Carter) to youngest member Andy (McGregor), prepare for the worst.

But Danny isnít going to let a major, community-wide catastrophe stop him from entering a nationwide battle of the bands. And the band gets a little rise when the attractive Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) joins its midst. Seems that Gloria, who can really toot a flugelhorn, is granddaughter to one of the bandís greatest musicians. Sheís also an old flame of Andyís.

"Brassed Off" gets bogged down in sentimentality; and that political agenda is spread on thick. Thereís a mundane subplot involving Dannyís son, Phil (Stephen Tompkinson), who falls afoul of loan sharks. And clearly the principals are doing the brass-blowing equivalent of lip-syncing. But Fitzgerald and McGregor make a charming couple. Postlethwaite is one of the most endearing personalities from Britain in recent years. And thereís something disarming about the movieís barely concealed intentions and attitude, especially when it supplies that final set of high notes, courtesy of the William Tell Overture. Who could resist?

BRASSED OFF (R) ó Contains sexual situations, profanity and some violence.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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