This Mining Movie Digs Itself into a Deep Political Pit; Friday First/news Films

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTOPHER TOOKEY

Brassed Off (15)

HERE are two British films for the price of one. The first is a highly enjoyable comedy about mining folk. The other is the pits.

Brassed Off is, on the surface, a feelgood movie about a mythical village called Grimley, where things are indeed looking grim. The pit is on the point of closure. The tough but tender bandleader (Pete Postlethwaite) is coughing ominously. His trombonist son (Stephen Tompkinson) is heavily in debt, and about to lose his house, family and marbles.

The one bright spot on the horizon is a pretty new flugelhorn-player (Tara Fitzgerald) who, despite a gorgeous smile, turns out to be a member of the hated Coal Board `management'. But don't fret - she's soon harmonising sweetly with a young trumpeter (Ewan McGregor), getting herself politicised, and losing any faith she ever had in the boss class.

Can the lads - and lass - restore their pride and the village's morale by fighting through to the finals of a national brass band competition? No prizes for guessing the answer.

Writer-director Mark Herman, the man culpable for the depressingly mechanical Venetian farce Blame It On The Bellboy, has sensibly returned to his Yorkshire roots.

On a fundamental, human level, it works. Who could fail to sympathise with ordinary people as their livelihood and community are destroyed by unseen forces?

The characters teeter on the edge of caricature, but the performances are deeply felt and funny. The music (played by the excellent Grimethorpe Colliery Band) adds further warmth.

Herman has a talent worth encouraging. He shows considerable improvement as a visual director (his opening shot is a beauty), and skilfully keeps a large number of plot strands on the go. Like Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell, he has a smart line in emotional manipulation, exploiting every scene for its utmost sentimental impact, then capping it with a hard-nosed pay-off line.

With its cosy stereotypes and sympathy for the common man, Brassed Off is bound to be compared with Ealing Comedy; but Ealing Comedy was healing comedy, celebrating our common humanity and bringing people together.

Brassed Off is an angry political tract steeped in class hatred and regional resentment.

It is a depressing commentary on British film-making that the `truth' about pit closures under Mrs Thatcher will be passed down to future generations by this infantile version of events, and the equally simplistic The Big Man (1990).

It is clear that the people at Channel 4 who commissioned Brassed Off couldn't care less about placating people like me who would blame the decline of the mining industry not so much on a malicious, uncaring Tory Party, but on rising costs, foreign competition (much of it based on unfair state subsidies), the rise of cleaner sources of energy, Arthur Scargill's tactical incompetence in calling a strike during the summer, and the miners' belief that they had a right to bring down any government which crossed them. None of these are mentioned as possible factors.

Don't expect light and shade. The manager (Stephen Moore) is a duplicitous swine. The mining folk are peace-loving and decent to a fault - except for one bad apple who is, of course, on the side of management.

Despite some fine individual scenes, the plot development is as predictable and rickety as any second-rate Hollywood sports movie. But because of its hard-Left agenda, Brassed Off will be praised by people who would never dream of applauding a more competent American film along identical lines.

The changes of gear between heart-warming comedy and agit-prop are as painful as its political naivety. The Albert Hall finale is so ham-fisted that there's never the slightest suspense about the competition's outcome. …