*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2012 BLU RAY REISSUE ***
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 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 filter cigarette 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. 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 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.
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, 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. At least a form of redemption is offered to them by way of their entry into the National Finals held in London - which they proudly attend and win with a rousing performance of the "William Tell Overature". And it all ends with Pete Postlethwaite's famously rousing speech to the assembled - tearful stuff full of pathos and heartbreak.
PICTURE QUALITY/EXTRAS: 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 naturally (no bars top or bottom).
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 you've seen already - pretty pointless and 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 SUBTITLES: None EXTRAS: 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