Brassed off is a drama about how politics can affect a small town that works well on an interpersonal scale. However, when it goes for the grand political statement, the notes seem a bit flat.
The small town of Grimley is a mining community in England. However, the coming of nuclear power heralds the demise of many of the coal pits throughout the country. The governmental policy has been to offer the miners a “redundancy” payoff to voluntarily close the mine, or face a survey to see if the mine is still profitable. Although no one will admit to supporting the mine closure, the atmosphere in Grimley is grim indeed.
Not to be discouraged by the local conditions, the Grimley Colliery Brass Band, led by the determined Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), begins preparations for the National SemiFinals. The band is inspired by the presence of a newcomer (Tara Fitzgerald), whose grandfather was famed for his fluglehorn. She also inspires the best out of bandmate Andy (Ewan McGregor). Meanwhile, Danny’s son Phil (Stephen Tompkinson) stands on the brink of losing everything he holds dear, and must choose between his father and the band, or his family.
Brassed Off excels in its common man depictions of the community of Grimley. The people seem real, and their plight is moving. Of particular interest is the relationship between Danny, Phil and his family. Phil is played to perfection by Stephen Tompkinson as a ne’er-do-well trying to please his single-minded father. Meanwhile, Danny, feeling mortality closing in, is obsessed with finding a piece of immortality, both for himself and for his town. The romance between Andy and the new girl is interesting, but is sluggish until she reveals a secret that adds a whole new level to their relationship.
The music in the film is well done, admirably played with a touch of authenticity by the Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band. The music effectively underscores not only the band competitions, but also the political skirmishes about the town.
Unfortunately, when Brassed Off tries to make its political statement, the whole film falters. It was more effective in its portrayal of a community being torn apart by the machinery of progress. Instead, the affair devolves into a one-sided festival of finger pointing. After which, the film asks the viewers to draw their own conclusions. Why bother, when the conclusions of the filmmakers have already been blatantly thrust upon the audience. But, in a film about a brass band, you can’t ask for too much subtlety.