Film Club “Strikes up the Band” on Sunday

June 24, 2016

North West Theatre Company has another treat in store for lovers of great movies, with the 1996 British/ American musical hit “Brassed Off” to screen at the Roxy Theatre on Sunday.

“Brassed Off” is one of a number of films whose central theme was the forced closure of hundreds of mines in Britain during the time of the Thatcher government, and the subsequent personal hardship suffered by those affected – mostly miners thrown out of work, and their families.

The film is set in a fictional village called Grimley, which was suggested by the real town of Grimethorpe, and the story deals with that community’s own struggles against the widespread pit closures happening in the coal mining industry in 1984- 85. More particularly, it is the story about how the Grimley Colliery Band – all collieries had their own bands – face a struggle to remain in existence when the coal mine shuts down.

So the film is a musical. However the dramatic circumstances faced by the various band members sets the scene for a harrowing, but ultimately inspiring, story of triumph, with music as the catalyst. The ending has shades of that terrific Swedish film “As it is in Heaven”, screened at Film Club some years ago.

“Brassed Off” is set ten years after the year-long strike in 1984 by the National Union of Mineworkers in Britain. Before the privatization of British Coal, a wave of pit closures took place. In contrast to the militancy of 1984/85, the miners put up little resistance. Many had been in debt ever since the long strike, and were prepared to take redundancy money whilst it was on offer.

The National Coal Board arranged private ballots between closing a mine immediately with compulsory redundancies (which were relatively generous), or conducting a review into whether the business could be profitable under privatization.

But the film is all about how these difficult times affected their lives and, consequently, the future of the band itself. Terrific performances from a strong cast including Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Tomkinson and the unsurpassable Pete Postlethwaite (this is HIS movie), make for great viewing.

There have been other significant films that used impoverished mining villages as their background.  “Billy Elliott” told the story of a young boy’s determination to make a career in dance, while “The Full Monty” dealt with a novel way in which to raise money to make ends meet. While great films, I doubt that either fully captured the mood of the times as accurately as “Brassed Off”.

It is fascinating that the soundtrack for this film was actually provided by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band itself. The band competition scenes are amazing, but, for me, the scene where the band plays “Danny Boy” outside band-leader Danny’s hospital window wearing mining lamps, has to surely be one of the most moving and poignant scenes ever shot.

“Brassed Off” runs for 1hr 47mins and is rated M for mature audiences.

This Sunday marks the halfway mark in the 2016 Film Club program.

Seven great films remain to be enjoyed – “Brassed Off”, “The Philadelphia Story” (July), “Lucky Miles” (August), “ Living is Easy With Eyes Closed” (September), “Magic in the Moonlight” (October), “Boyhood” (November) and the President’s Pick/ Christmas Party in December (yes, I think I’ve chosen it already!). All this for the current membership fee of only $36.

See you at the movies!