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Brassed Off Review

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A Yorkshire pit faces closure but the colliery band still want to compete for band of the year at the National championships.

★★★★★

Despite a comparatively quiet cinema release, astounding word of mouth steered Brassed Off into the money-making zone, its blend of political drama and light-hearted comedy striking a chord with cinemagoers. However, now that it's all over bar the faint parp of a wind instrument, did it actually deserve the sleeper success? Yes and no, as it happens.

Grimley Colliery is a fictional Yorkshire pit about to close its doors for the last time depending on the vote from its miners. But in the face of impending unemployment, the colliery's brass band — led by Danny (Postlethwaite) —keeps playing on, reaching the semi-finals of the National Championships and heading for the great play-off at the Royal Albert Hall. There's even an unlikely new addition to the musicians — in the shape of local girl made good Gloria (Fitzgerald) — who wins the affections of fellow bandsman Andy (McGregor). But as is par for the course, the road to trumpeting glory is paved with unexpected obstacles.

The tone proves problematic — after all, pit closures and the knock-on effect of forced redundancy was never going to be the stuff that knockabout comedies are made of. And the film is unsure whether to be a spirited political puff piece or a light-hearted comedy, so goes for a mixture of both, the result being that many of the more light-hearted vignettes fall flat, giving rise to an unbelievably fantastical denouement.

The unexpected saviour of the movie proves to be the brass band music itself, which provides a solid backdrop to much of the action (one set piece, featuring dejected miners and protesters leaving the colliery, is all the more poignant for the tune which accompanies it).

More predictably, the acting is top-notch. McGregor breathes life into a less-than-interesting role, Fitzgerald shines and Tompkinson is excellent as a man on the brink of cracking up. But Postlethwaite takes top honours as his dad, the bandleader for whom everything takes second place to music. Not an unqualified success then, but well-meaning and enthusiastic enough to warrant attention.

An uneasy tone prevails, while the small-screen style and supporting cast of familiar TV faces suggests this would play more comfortably on the box.