'Brassed Off:' sloppy British fun
May 30, 1997
Web posted at: 6:16 p.m. EDT (2216 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- It seems that you're far more likely to find sloppy
sentimentalism in everyday British films than you are in
their U.S. counterparts, but considering the American
alternative (runaway airliners crashing through corporate
logo-embossed buildings), I'll take the violins any day of
the week. "Brassed Off" is about as sloppy as it gets, but
for nearly two-thirds of the movie the gushiness is pretty
much kept in check. And those two thirds are quite a treat.
This is the story of a group of Yorkshire coal miners who
(like their fathers and grandfathers before them) perform in
brass band competitions as a pride-building hobby. Modern
times have changed things, though, and they eventually must
start leaning on each other to stave off the awful knowledge
that their beloved Grimley Colliery is about to be shut down
by Margaret Thatcher's dreaded Tory government.
Writer/director Mark Herman makes no secret of his distaste
for the Tories. The situation is quite literally spelled out
at the beginning of the film with rather acidic printed
definitions of what a Tory is and does. Herman basically
feels that they're a bunch of greedy bastards who gleefully
crush the little man. The film would have more impact if it
had been made while Thatcher was still in office, but this
kind of anger burns on. For the American equivalent, picture
the masses who were never privy to the dazzle in Reagan's
"trickle down" economics.
The ensemble cast is excellent, from top to bottom. Ewan
McGregor is Andy, the youngest and easily the most
charismatic of the miners. McGregor's genial, good-hearted
performance nicely camouflages the fact that this handsome
young bloke (that's what they call them in this kind of
movie) probably wouldn't be caught dead wearing a garish
purple uniform and marching around in a brass band with a
bunch of potbellied old geezers (also what they call them.)
As the film opens, several of the band members are
considering hanging up their instruments for good. With the
exception of their fanatical conductor, Danny Boy ("The Lost
World's" Pete Postlethwaite), most of the men are more
concerned with the fact they're quickly approaching
unemployment. Several mines in the area have already been
shut down, and it's just a matter of time before the ax hits
A much-needed second wind soon arrives in the guise of Gloria
(Tara Fitzgerald), a flugelhorn whiz with an alluring smile
and even more alluring everything else. Talk of disbanding
is put on hold so long as these weary pub mates are allowed
to carouse with this angelic virtuoso. As might be imagined
(and most of what happens in the film can easily be imagined
before it actually takes place), Gloria will turn out to be
as much of a curse as she is a blessing.
Both McGregor and Fitzgerald are wildly appealing actors,
attractive while remaining actual human beings, light-hearted
while fully registering the plight of these working stiffs.
When "Trainspotting" suddenly became a huge sensation in
Europe, most critics pinned down McGregor as a young Malcolm
McDowell. He does have quite a bit of McDowell's "Clockwork
Orange"-period mischievous gleam in his eyes, but if you ask
me, I think the guy is best described as a younger, less
self-satisfied Kenneth Branagh. The nice thing about his
performance in "Brassed Off" is that he looks tailor-made to
be yet another British "angry young man," but his good
spirits never let him fall into something so simple and
Tara Fitzgerald is just as dazzling, an energetic performer
with a smile a mile wide. She is particularly good while
taking the wind out of some of her more lecherous fellow band
members. Again, there is a lightness of spirit in her
performance that gives the film, even with its downbeat
subject matter, a welcome buoyancy.
Things are going so well for most of the movie, it's quite a
shock when Herman suddenly seems to take leave of his senses.
Particularly inept is a subplot concerning Danny Boy's son,
Phil (played by Stephen Tompkinson), one of the struggling
laborers who must take on work as a clown at children's
birthday parties in order to make ends meet. The tone of
these scenes wavers uneasily between extremely obvious comedy
and blown-cork, plight-of-the-worker monologues. Suffice it
to say that a man trying to hang himself while wearing a
complete clown suit (including big ol' shoes) doesn't seem
quite as horrifying as it probably should.
Things unexpectedly become melodramatic in the extreme.
Postlethwaite's Danny Boy has developed black lung, you see,
and the boys want to win the big competition before he joins
that brass band in the sky. One guess as to how it all ends,
and, no, a huge volcano does not erupt in the middle of
Yorkshire, killing the whole cast. An absurdly didactic
speech in the final scene feels more like a pamphlet than a
logical progression of the story, and quite nearly topples
the whole thing. Before this completely unexpected series of
stumbles, though, "Brassed Off" is a great deal of
old-fashioned fun, and well worth your time. By all means
see it if you don't like clowns.
"Brassed Off" is wholly inoffensive, with a little bit of
profanity and one positively chaste kiss. No nudity, and a
couple of mildly shot punch outs. Rated R, though it's
difficult to imagine why. 107 minutes.
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