Thursday, 21 June 2012

"Brassed Off". A Review Of The 1996 Film - Now Reissued On A 2012 BLU RAY.


“…No Hope…Just Principals…”

Set in the fictional mining town of Grimley in North Yorkshire ten years after the calamitous miner's strike of '84 to '85 – "Brassed Off" is about a colliery band with a 100-year history facing dissolution should their coal pit be closed by a determined powers-that-be (the Tory party bent on destroying the Trade Unions). It's a small British movie about big British things and when it was released into cinemas in 1996 – it delivered its laughter and tears with a warmth and passion that disarmed many at the time.

In fact - re-watching it now on this superlatively clean and crisply rendered 2012 transfer to BLU RAY (the absolute best its ever looked) – I'm once again struck by its huge heart and the great performances from a committed cast – and that mass job losses devastating a community is still painfully relevant to this day.

Written and Directed by MARK HERMAN (who went on to do the equally good "Little Voice", "Purely Belter" and "The Boy In Stripped Pyjamas") - this is a working-class world where housewives have a fag and a cup of tea on the garden wall while their frayed padded-bras flutter on the clothesline in the morning breeze. People shop in Spar and Kwik Save and say "daft" and "bugger" all the time. Out-of-work fathers read the Daily Star in deckchairs in their concrete yards - and the Arkwright Tour Bus boasts an advert on its rear of trips to exotic places like Paris and New York - but mostly does trips from the local pub The Collier's Arms. Life is a struggle and money always a problem – and if the pit closes then there will literally be 'no future' for hundreds of men and women with families to support…

A lot of the movie's seething underbelly of anger and frustration is offset by self-deprecating jokes… When Danny the ailing conductor of the brass band (Pete Postlethwaite) gives his sappy but good-hearted son Phil a piggyback on his bicycle to band practice (a truly fantastic Stephen Tompkinson) – demented by four kids, a crippling mortgage and loan sharks – his had-enough wife Sandra (Melanie Hill) chucks plates at him as he leaves. Danny casually remarks as they cycle away - "...bit clumsy with the crockery your Sandra…". When local girl Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) returns as a business sophisticate to do a feasibility study on the viability of the pit – she is fondly remembered by the pool-playing Andy (Ewan McGregor) for giving "top half only" when she was a teenager. Their rekindled romance is lovely and believably real.

Then when she sexily shimmies onto the tour bus in her tight skirt – two concerned wives (Sue Johnston and Mary Healey playing Vera and Ida) turn up at the door and tackle Danny who is doing a head count about the wayward men taking a shine to the gorgeous Gloria. Danny explains, "That girl blows a flugelhorn like a dream!" "Danny Ormondroyd!" Vera replies. "At your age!" Gloria then gets sandwiched by two older men at the back of the bus (Philip Jackson and Peter Martin playing Jim and Ernie) "I'm a quantity surveyor" she explains when asked about her job. "Wanna survey my quantity love?" Jim saucily suggests. She quickly counters, "You know what they say – no job too small!"

But sadness and frustration are never far away from the surface either. A husband and wife cross each other on the footpath in the morning as their shifts intertwine - too tired, too rushed and too beaten to speak (Jim Carter – now the Butler Mister Carson in "Downton Abbey"). When they do talk the 3rd time it happens she remarks – "You used to be full of fight…" He drops his head – it's true. 
Wives and mothers huddle around kettle-drum fires for warmth and sit in makeshift tents outside the colliery gates where their constant chant goes up as the scabs pass the picket line – "The miners united – will never be defeated". When of course they were…

Debt Collectors punch out a desperate father in front of his wife and kids – and a few days later coldly remove all their worldly goods from their home. A friend manning the cash register in a local supermarket slips a £10 note behind the receipt to a mortified mum who can’t afford 60p Orange Squash for her kids. And when the pit does finally close – the boys stand outside the gates with their instrument cases in hand knowing it’s all over – years of tradition wiped away by politics and bloody-mindedness. At least a form of redemption is offered to them by way of financing their entry into the National Finals held in London - which they proudly attend and win with a rousing performance of "Charge Of The Light Brigade". And it all ends with Pete Postlethwaite's rousing speech to the assembled - tearful stuff full of pathos and heartbreak.

It opens with miners down a pit finishing their shift in the dimly lit caves - so there is some grain – but once they emerge into the yards from the lifts and from thereon in – this May 2012 Channel 4/Miramax release looks 'so' good it's positively disarming. Its default aspect is 1.85:1 so it fills the full screen (no bars top or bottom) and you have to ask - where has this picture quality been all these years? I don't recall it ever looking this special – even on the reissued DVD of a few years back?

The extras are disappointing though. The interviews with the principal four are short and enthusiastic – but hardly great and the 'Sub Plot Extra' merely cobbles together scenes of say Andy and Gloria's story – so you've seen them already and collated like this is pretty pointless and even irritating. 
The Biographies and Photo Galleries offer some info and images – but it's all terribly underwhelming and no real improvement on what went before. Still – there is that picture quality…

I honestly hadn't expected to be so 'moved' by "Brassed Off" this time around – yet the script got to me on several occasions. Stephen Tomkinson's character Phil dressed up and moonlighting as the clown Mr. Chuckles - when the injustice of his situation gets to him and he loses it at a children's party (his dialogue from earlier titles this review) - Pete Postlethwaite's character lying in a hospital bed with blood in his lungs and sadness in his heart – when the boys gather outside in the dark and begin playing "Danny Boy" in a Brass Band style. I'll tell you – it's a hard man indeed who doesn't shed a tear.

To sum up - at last "Brassed Off" is given the transfer it thoroughly deserves – and if you’ve any affection at all for this ballsy little film – then you need to own it on BLU RAY. And what a great way to remember Pete Postlethwaite - exuding that everyman humanity that engendered him to a whole nation.

Nowt wrong with that ye daft buggers…  

BLU RAY Specifications:
ASPECT: 1.85:1 ratio
1. Theatrical Trailer
2. Interviews: (a) Mark Herman (Writer & Director) (b) Ewan McGregor as Andy (c) Pete Postlethwaite as Danny (d) Tara Fitzgerald as Gloria
3. Sub Plots: Clips of the film edited together to give story arcs on say Gloria and Andy – father and son – Danny and Phil – and so on.
4. Biographies (Film, TV and Theatre): Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor
5. Photo Libraries

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