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Film / Brassed Off

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Brassed Off is a 1996 British comedy-drama written and directed by Mark Herman. It is most famous for its (understandably) brass band soundtrack, recorded by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

Grimley, a small town Oop North, is based around two things, the colliery (Oop North-ish for "coal mine") and the colliery band. Gloria Mullins (Tara Fitzgerald), the granddaughter of the late bandmember Arthur Mullins, moves back to Grimley, and becomes the first female band member under the direction of Danny Ormondroyd (Pete Postlethwaite) while reuniting with her former lover and tenor horn player Andy Barrow (Ewan McGregor). At the same time, the mine is threatened by closure, which would result in widespread local unemployment and could effectively kill the town.

The film also stars Jim Carter as Harry, Mary Healey as Ida, Melanie Hill as Sandra Ormondroyd, Philip Jackson as Jim, Sue Johnston as Vera, Peter Martin as Ernie, Stephen Moore as McKenzie and Stephen Tompkinson as Phil Ormondroyd.

The film was released on 1 November 1996.

Brassed Off provides examples of:

  • Adminisphere: Compare the literal coalface where the band work to Gloria's building.
  • All for Nothing: Gloria's profitability report proved to be pointless when the managers revealed that they decided to close the pit two years earlier.
  • And Starring: Stephen Tompkinson is billed as "And Stephen Tompkinson" in the opening credits.
  • As You Know: A brief one when Mrs Foggan looks curiously at a box belonging to Gloria, possibly for the benefit of the audience who are not familiar with brass instruments.
    Mrs Foggan: What's this, then?
    Gloria: It's just a flugel. (Beat) A trumpet.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In-universe. When Gloria donates her earnings to the band so they can take part in the final, Jim sounds as if he is not going to allow her to play with them.
    Jim: You want to play with us, right?
    Gloria: I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing it for you, and Danny.
    Jim: Danny would want us to win. Well, we're not going to win, (Beat) without a flaming flugel, are we?
  • Based on a True Story: Grimley is a thinly veiled version of Grimethorpe, which went through a similar chain of events, and the film was shot on location in Grimethorpe. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band plays the Grimley Colliery Band in the film, and that's them on the soundtrack (except for a few orchestral cues written by Trevor Jones).
  • Berserk Button:
    • Phil is furious that the management wants to close a profitable pit; he went on strike in 1984 to protest closure and he's even angrier now about the whole idea.
    • Andy being called a scab by Jim: the whole conversation is carried out with Tranquil Fury.
      Andy: I'm not a kid any more, all right?
      Jim: Oh aye, old enough to be a scab then.
      (Stunned silence)
      Ernie: It's all right, Andy, he doesn't mean it.
      Andy: (To Jim) You don't mess about with words like that.
      Jim: I take it back. You're just a stupid fucker.
      Andy: That's more like it.
  • Big Honking Traffic Jam: When the band's bus heads into London, there is a huge traffic jam, complete with car horns sounding (loud enough to be heard over the background brass band music), while the bus sails past the traffic in the bus lane.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The band wins the National Championships for the first time ever but the pit has closed, Danny is terminally ill and they're all facing the destruction of the coal industry.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The result of the ballot on the closure of the pit is announced on the same day as the brass band semi-finals: the only thing that matters to Danny, while everybody else is thinking about the pit.
    Danny: I didn't think you were that bothered, pet.
    Mrs Foggan: The whole town be bothered, love. Can't do without pit.
    Danny: Oh, that? I thought you were talking about semi-finals.
    Mrs Foggan: Honestly, Danny, a day like today: you think anyone's interested in the result of some damn football match?
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The managers who ordered the profitability survey in spite of having made the closure decision two years earlier.
  • Covers Always Lie: When the film was acquired by Miramax Films for US release, they inexplicably opted to market it as a romcom; there are more than a few VHS/DVD releases of this film which would have you believe that. The Andy/Gloria relationship is the only romcom element, but it's very much a subplot.
  • The Cynic: Jim, eventually downplayed. Of all the bandsmen characters, he's the most dour and pessimistic and the first to distrust Gloria. He disapproves of Andy's relationship with her and comes close to calling Andy a scab. When he thinks she's recommended that the pit be closed, he's the first to turn his back on her, and turns down her offer to pay for the band to go to the national finals. However, Phil's suicide attempt seems to make him take a level in idealism; he makes Phil come and have a drink with them, and at the end of the film, when they've won the award, he casually asks Gloria if she's all right, prompting Andy to comment "Never seen him gush like that before."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone. Goes with the territory when your story takes place Oop North.
    Jim: Sixty years between us, down pit, frightened of nowt. When it comes to telling Danny Boy we're packing band in...
    Ernie: We're shitting bloody bricks.
  • Double Entendre: When Andy is mooning after Gloria in the rehearsal room, Danny notices.
    Danny: Poor lad. Still got your mind on that pit?
  • Dreaded Kids' Party Entertainer Job: Phil's attempt to support his family as Coco the Clown after the coal mine closed. Everyone treats poor Phil as a complete joke, until he, after one insult too many, goes off on his infamous "Coco the Scab"-rant in front of a church full of children.
  • Driven to Suicide: Phil attempts suicide after he gets involved in the pit closure by hanging himself. Fortunately, he survives and Danny consoles him.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Danny. He's a gifted musician and brilliant conductor, but he's so focused on the band and its music that he fails to notice the level of despair that the musicians are in. The others tend to find this funny until they return from winning the semi-finals to find that the management has closed the pit, and the shock of it almost kills him.
  • Evil Stole My Faith: Mr. Chuckles, after memorably screwing up a children's party:
    Angry Middle-Class Mum: May God forgive you.
    Mr Chuckles: God? Oh right, there now, there's the fella. I mean what's he doin', eh? He can take John Lennon, he can take those three young lads down at Ainsley Pit, he's even thinkin' of taking my old man, and Margaret bloody Thatcher lives? I mean, what's he soddin' playin' at, eh? ... You've been great. My name's Coco the Scab.
  • Fantasy Helmet Enforcement: Defied. Not only does the elderly Danny not wear a helmet on his bicycle, but he carries Phil as a passenger without a proper seat, while Phil carries his trombone. When Danny puts out his arm to signal a turn, Phil sticks his trombone out as well.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Quite a few examples, given that the band is falling apart at the beginning of the film but gradually becomes more cohesive as it goes on, but the most conspicuous example is Jim and Gloria, after he realises that she was on the miners' side all along. Lampshaded by Gloria and Andy at the end after Jim casually asks her if she's all right:
    Gloria: Was that a thank you?
    Andy: More than that. Never known him gush like that before.
  • Foreshadowing: Several times, Danny is seen coughing up coal dust, before he later falls ill. See Icy Blue Eyes below.
  • Get Out!: A characteristically low-key Yorkshire version, when Jim thinks that Gloria's report has recommended that the pit be closed:
  • Heroic BSoD: Phil has one of these, just before the Harvest Festival gig where he finally crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: When Phil suddenly spots something black on Danny's hanky, Danny denies anything is wrong, and stares back at Phil.
    Phil: What's that on your hanky?
    Danny: Oh, nowt. Chain come off me bike. (Stares)
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The fictitious town in which the film is set, where the local industry is being shut down and nearly everyone is depressed and soon-to-be-unemployed, is called "Grimley". Arguably Lighter and Softer than the real town which it's based on, and where the film was actually shot, and whose band plays the Grimley Colliery band: Grimethorpe.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Justified Trope. Coal lung has all the symptoms and is incurable and invariably lethal. Danny, being a retired miner who has probably worked in the pit for over thirty years, most of it before protective gear... it fits.
  • Insistent Terminology: Harry's instrument is not merely a "bloody trumpet", it's a "bloody euphonium".
  • It's All Junk: Danny's view of the British Brass Band Championship trophy Jim disagrees, however.
  • It's a Small World, After All: There are several moments of characters randomly meeting up, especially at night:
    • When Phil considers breaking into a shop at night for a trombone, Jim, Ernie and Harry appear out of nowhere.
      Jim: Ay up, Phil. Did you like it so much you want to go back?... Wakefield prison?
    • Danny happens to meet Andy sneaking out of Gloria's digs, in the middle of the night.
      Danny: Hi Andy lad. What are you up to?
      Andy: Oh, a bit of extra practice, like.
      Danny: Well, you're a genius, you are. It takes a special talent: practising, without your instrument.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre:
    Gloria: Do you want to come up for a coffee?
    Andy: I don't drink coffee.
    Gloria: I haven't got any.
  • Leitmotif: Sometimes the background music (brass, of course) matches the mood on the screen. In "En Aranjuez", the union leaders are seen waving their arms almost in time to the music; and in "Florentiner March", the demonstrators sadly walking home having lost their fight coincides with a slow part of the music.
  • Loan Shark: They're after Phil, to collect the money he borrowed to support his family during the Great Strike.
  • No Antagonist: There's no major antagonist threatening the main characters, who are brass band musicians. However, the colliery management, especially the rather smug McKenzie, does function as a Hate Sink.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: Even though the hospital won't let Danny out of hospital for the final, he discharges himself when Phil leaves him a note saying "We're going!".
  • Post-War British Politics: More specifically Margaret Thatcher. Described throughout using four-letter words.
  • Precision F-Strike: At the end of Danny's emotional "This government has systematically destroyed an entire industry" speech in the Royal Albert Hall: "Oh aye, they can knock out a bloody good tune. But what the fuck does that matter?"
    • This also happens when Phil is in his clown outfit, and suddenly lets his feelings loose in a church full of children.
      Phil: Harvest Festival. To tell you the truth, I don't know too much about harvest festival, but I do know a story about God. So, God was creating man, and his angels said "hey, we've run out of brains, we've run out of hearts and we've run out of vocal chords", and God said: "Fuck it! Smack smiles on them, make them talk out of their arses and send them up anyway. And lo, God created the Tory party!
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Phil's "Coco the Scab" speech.
    Phil: What's He doing? He can take John Lennon. He can take those three young lads down at Ainsley Pit. He's even thinking of taking my old man. And Margaret bloody Thatcher lives! What's He sodding playing at, eh?
  • Sad Clown: Mr. Chuckles is a literal sad clown.
  • She's All Grown Up: Gloria isn't quite the chubby girl Andy remembers.
  • Shower Scene: During the opening credits, and during a later montage of the miners at work, the miners shower together, showing no inhibitions about being naked in front of each other. Phil playfully ruffles Harry's hair, to Harry's annoyance.
  • Signature Team Transport: When the band travels to the Albert Hall for the final, their bus is absurdly decorated with streamers and balloons in the band colours, and a huge banner saying "Good luck Grimley".
  • Silent Conversation: When Gloria is playing Rodrigo's Concerto d'Aranjuez with the band, a meeting is seen between the management of the pit, and the union leaders. No dialogue is heard, but the meeting is very heated, with lots of exaggerated body language, which happens vaguely in time to the music. The result of this meeting is revealed in a later scene.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Gloria is the only female member of the band, which persuades Jim and Ernie to continue after vowing to leave the band.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: The pit has closed. A thousand miners are unemployed. Phil has tried to kill himself, Danny is dying in hospital, and the only thing he might live for is the band winning the final, but even taking part is impossible, because it would cost three grand. Everything is looking very bad. And just as the group are mulling this over, Gloria solemnly donates the money she has earned to the band, so they can take part in the final after all.
  • Talent Double: The Grimethorpe Colliery Band's then-flugelhorn player Paul Hughes provided Gloria's solo in the "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor" sequence.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Gloria.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Danny, to Phil, in large part because Phil is his son.
  • What Have I Become?: Phil after he's voted for the pit to close and in doing so has become a "scab", the thing he hates most in the world.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Phil is hospitalised in the same place Danny is in, the latter is understandably upset with what his son did.
  • You Go, Girl!: Subverted. Gloria does get some pushback for being both an outsider and a woman at first, but that goes out of the window as soon as it becomes apparent that she is the granddaughter of a well-respected band member and a damn fine flugelhorn player. She is temporarily thrown out of the band when they find out she works for the management who made them redundant, but she wins them over when she uses her earnings "dirty money" to fund them attending the championship final.

"All right then, lads and lasses. Land of Hope and bloody Glory, eh?"