Brassed Off (Mining Movie – 1996)

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Brassed Off is a 1996 British film written and directed by Mark Herman. The film, a British-American co-production made between Channel Four Films, Miramax Films and Prominent Films, is about the troubles faced by a colliery brass band, following the closure of their pit. The soundtrack for the film was provided by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and the plot is based on Grimethorpe’s own struggles against pit closures. It is generally very positively received for its role in promoting brass bands and their music. Parts of the film make reference to the huge increase in suicides that resulted from the end of the coal industry in Britain, and the struggle to retain hope in the circumstances.

Channel 4 and The Guardian both sponsored what was expected to be a low-profile film; it was not expected to gain the wide audience that it has. Having expected viewers to be mostly those with past links to coal mining, the film does not make explicit the political background to the plot. The American marketing for the film (and later VHS and DVD releases) portrays the film as a cheerful romantic comedy with nearly no mention at all about the musical or political elements.

The film stars Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor. The film was well received as a comedy, and by some as a political statement about the state of traditional coal mining communities in Britain.

The film was particularly well received in former mining communities, who felt it accurately reflected the suffering they faced because of the decline of their industry during the years of the Thatcher and Major Conservative governments. It is set during the latter period, when Michael Heseltine presided over a huge programme of pit closures, as President of the Board of Trade.

Audio samples from the film were used on the 1997 Chumbawamba record, Tubthumper.

The film is set in “Grimley” in the mid-1990s — a thinly disguised version of the real South Yorkshire village of Grimethorpe, which had been named as the poorest village in Britain two years earlier by the European Union. The nearby areas of the Dearne Valley and the Hemsworth area were also identified as in need of serious aid. Indeed, the soundtrack for the film was recorded by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, the story roughly reflects Grimethorpe Colliery Band’s history, and the film was largely shot in Grimethorpe.[1] The Grimley Colliery Band in the film is made up of a mixture of actors and members of the Grimethorpe Band.

The miners in the film put up little resistance to the coal board’s harsh redundancy policy. This can be understood in the context of the 1984-85 British miners’ strike, which effectively destroyed trade union power in British coal mining industry. The film depicts the spirit of hopelessness 10 years after the strike, and the miners’ attempts to find redemption. An ongoing piece of symbolism in the first half of the film is the lack of conversation between one miner and his wife, until she finally criticises him harshly for not making a show of resistance against the closure, when he had been so full of fight in 1984.

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