Brassed Off (1996)

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Released 20-Aug-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Production Notes
Synopsis
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 103:11
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:57) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mark Herman
Studio
Distributor

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Pete Postlethwaite
Tara Fitzgerald
Ewan McGregor
Jim Carter
Philip Jackson
Sue Johnston
Stephen Moore
Ken Colley
Peter Gunn
Mary Healey
Melanie Hill
Peter Martin
Lill Roughley
Case Click
RPI $29.95 Music Trevor Jones
Grimthorpe Colliery Band


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    As I have said before, one of the great joys of reviewing is that every so often you get to review one of your truly favourite films. Naturally, when such an event happens, you tend to approach the whole reviewing process in a much more positive state of mind, and at the conclusion of the actual review you get to sit down and wax lyrical about the film. Contrary to popular belief, reviewing is not exactly a bunch of roses and at times it gets downright dreary, so those rare occasions when you do get a chance to review a favourite film, you certainly do take the opportunity to relish the job. I'm sure you can gather that the size of the waxing lyrical in a review is proportional to the closer the film is to the head of the reviewer's favourite all-time list. The more waxing lyrical bits there are, the closer to the top of the faves list the film is. Regular readers of this site will no doubt know, or have worked out, that my top two fave films of all time are The Right Stuff and Glory, and it shows in the waxing lyrical in those reviews.

    Well, if you don't appreciate my waxing lyrical, you best head on down to the transfer quality section of the review for, yes indeed, Brassed Off is another of my favourite films of all time. The likelihood is that I am about to wax lyrical in a big way. Funnily enough, the pile of review DVDs that arrived for me this week included not one but two of my all-time favourite films, so you can expect further waxing lyrical in a couple of days time!

    So exactly what makes Brassed Off! one of my favourite films of all time? Well, a big start is the fact that it is a British film. You have probably gotten fed up of me pushing this line, but really and truly this is the sort of film that Hollywood could not do in a zillion years with anything approaching success. Unlike the Hollywood preference for looks over acting ability (Keanu Reeves anyone?), the British appreciate good acting over good looks. The result is that at a fundamental level, British films start off on a much more believable footing. After all, could you imagine the Hollywood casting for this sort of film? Craggy old ex-miner band leader played by Tom Cruise, at-the-pit-face coal miners played by Leonardo De Craprio and Keanu Reeves, home-town girl made good played by Julia Roberts and so on. Sure, the people would come to see it on the strength of the names, but the film itself would be a disaster - the whole point and meaning of the film would be lost.

    What we have here is a down-to-earth story set in the down-to-earth setting of a mining town in Yorkshire filled with a whole bunch of down-to-earth characters (literally I might add), warts and all style. This is not some Hollywood gloss, this is the gritty reality of towns up and down the northern parts of England. And this really is reality. As you may have gathered from earlier reviews, I was born in Wolverhampton in the Midlands of England. Whilst the city is at the fringes of the main coal mining areas of England, within three or four miles of my grandmother's house were several coal mines - coal mines that I saw close as a kid and destroy part of the town. Wolverhampton ain't no flashy place - it is a down-to-earth, working-class industrial city that in the 1960s was typical of the genre: a dirty, grimy, decaying place. As the coal mining industry began its slow contraction in the 1960s, life in these sorts of communities began to change enormously. But even that did not prepare the country for what Margaret Thatcher's conservative government did to the industry in the 1980s. In the space of a decade, they managed to rip the heart out of mining towns the length and breadth of Great Britain, all in the name of progress. And this despite the fact that there was and still is plenty of coal underground in England and that there was and still is a significant domestic market for the product. But the perception was that it was far better to put 250,000 miners out of work and have them on the dole than keep an industry running that employed not just those 250,000 miners directly but also untold tens of thousands indirectly.

    And so the broad story here is one that I have seen the effect of and know the effect of upon members of my family. Set in the fictional town of Grimley (actually filmed in Grimethorpe, home of the renowned brass band, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band), this is a town heavily dependent upon the colliery. Everything in the town is directly or indirectly dependent upon the pit. The pit is a profitable one, but has come under threat of closure from the British Coal Board. This is the underlying backdrop to everything in the film. The story is not so much based upon the pit but rather that almost peculiar British musical tradition - the brass band. The Grimley Colliery Band is made up of workers from the pit and the town, and they are pretty darn good with a long history. Unfortunately, the threat to the pit is having a negative effect upon the playing at the band's practice hall, as minds wander to somewhat more important matters. This really annoys Danny Ormondroyd (Pete Postlethwaite), the band's leader who sees nothing as being more important as music. He is about to find out otherwise.

    Into that depressed practice session walks Gloria Mullins (Tara Fitzgerald), granddaughter of famed band member Arthur Mullins. She has recently returned to her place of birth to do some work and just wants to have some practice with her flugle. Naturally, the appearance of gorgeous Gloria rejuvenates the male members of the band, none more so that Andy Barrow (Ewan McGregor), one-time teenage boyfriend of Gloria. He is the eternal pessimist and just maybe the return of Gloria is the sign of some improvement in his fortune. So, with Gloria now in the band, they set off in search of fame, if not anything remotely close to fortune. First stop is that peculiarly British tradition of the village brass band competitions. As the noose tightens around the pit, things don't exactly go well and the band fails miserably in trying to enlarge its coffers to permit an assault on the National Brass Band Championships. However, things are not too rosy as the miners head for a vote as to whether to force the pit to review or to take the redundancy package offered to them - a package deliberately aimed at ensuring that the money cannot be turned down. Things get even less rosy when it is discovered by Andy's mates that his girlfriend is actually management. Whilst difficult to understand in our terms, in those days, that was very much something that does not happen - interaction between management and the workers.

    As the day of the ballot count arrives, the band heads off to Piece Hall in Halifax for the Semi-Finals of the National Brass Band Championships. They return triumphant but to find that the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of redundancy. With the heart of the town pulled from under them, the people start to lose heart as the realisation sinks in that perhaps the music does not matter, the people do. How exactly do you handle losing your job and knowing the prospects of any employment in the town are lower than zero? As the band slowly unravels, the members come to understand that nothing is to be gained by just giving up and a reawakening of the importance of rising above the mess comes to the fore. Self-sacrifice enables the band to travel to the National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall, from where their plight can be told to the nation.

    It might sound a trite little story, but the fact is that this is reality. This sort of stuff did happen in England in the 1980s and it had a terrible effect on a lot of people. So far from being trite, this is a wonderful story that completely encapsulates the depression that surrounded towns as the pits were closed. This is perhaps as close as you would want to get to this reality, although people in this country have suffered similar problems, especially in the steel industry. There is nothing unbelievable about this story and all the humour, all the anger, all the passion that infuses the reality is brought to the story in abundance.

    But having created the story, you now need the people to bring the characters to life. And that is ultimately where this film succeeds so terrifically. The credentials of Pete Postlethwaite are beyond question and this film is an ample demonstration of just how good an actor he is. His turn as Danny, the ex-miner, now band leader slowly succumbing to the coal dust that fills his lungs is one of the great treats of British film of the 1990s. Ewan McGregor does a sterling job of the eternal pessimist and this is the sort of performance that is adding enormously to his stature as an actor. His almost benign resignation to everything that goes wrong for him is one of the strong aspects of the characterisation he brings. The almost girl next door type is played to perfection by Tara Fitzgerald, a genuinely attractive woman who certainly can turn heads just like the lass she plays in the film. But beyond the three main leads, there is staggering depth to this cast, in many ways a personification of what makes British films that much better in the character department. Just to pick out a few performances is almost demeaning to the excellence of the whole, but fine examples include the performance from Stephen Tompkinson as the battler facing the loss of his job, his wife, his kids, his home and his will to live. But really and truly you could pick anyone in this cast and find a genuinely excellent performance that adds significantly to the strong character of the film.

    The film is wonderfully directed by Mark Herman and the result is a film that is so utterly believable that at times you can almost see the blurring of the line between fiction and reality. For me, this is such a brilliantly crafted film that it has more of the character of a documentary than a feature film. It is a film that I can return to on a very regular basis and enjoy enormously. Every time I watch it, there are nuances that I have missed before. This falls firmly into my top five or six films and has been there ever since I first saw it. I cannot recommend the film too highly and if you have never seen the film, I would suggest that you are in for a treat.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The very best Very Hazy System tape that I have seen is that of Brassed Off.Outside of the Star Trek: Voyager tapes, it is the very last tape that I have watched voluntarily since switching to DVD, for the simple reason that it is the only one that is actually anywhere near decent in comparison. On my system, it looks great. So unfortunately, this is one instance where DVD has a lot more to live up to in the transfer department as a result. It has to be said that I have to some degree been a tad disappointed with the slightly inconsistent nature of the Region 2 release of the film, as it varies a lot between absolute clarity and subtly grainy. That disappointment carries forward to the rather similar-looking Region 4 release.

    Thankfully, however, the transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The main cause of the slight inconsistency in the transfer is the presence of slight grain in certain sections. It is a bit annoying when you have some utterly clear, crisp section of film immediately followed by a section slightly cursed with grain. Not that the grain ever gets to be that bad, but it is enough to just take the edge off what obviously could have been a much sharper and superbly detailed transfer. Even with the grain, this remains a quite decently sharp transfer with a surprising amount of detail at times. When the grain recedes a little, there is plenty of clarity in the transfer. Even in the underground mining scenes, the shadow detail is terrific and I have no complaints whatsoever in that regard. There does not appear to be any low level noise infestations in any of the videos. Just once or twice there was some indication of a slightly digital looking picture, where the picture was a tad over bright and a little too steely looking.

    The colours here are very nicely handled indeed and range across just about the whole palette. With lots of dirtier tones around, the transfer is lifted by the presence of the richer, brighter colours that do crop up here. Indeed, if you want a good indication of how good the colours can be here, just check out the atmospheric opening sequence as it segues into underground mining activity. It might be underground, and it might be coal they are mining, but there is plenty of colour definition here. The whole transfer generally has a nice vibrancy to it and the overall effect is certainly very reminiscent of the urban colourscape I was used to as a kid in Wolverhampton. There is no issue with over saturation of colour in the transfer, and colour bleed is not in evidence either.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. A number of pan shots lack somewhat in resolution (good examples being during the final concert in the Royal Albert Hall at 93:57 and 94:53), but since this has been consistent with every version of the film I have seen, I would probably be safe in suggesting that this is inherent n the source material. Unfortunately, there are some consistent problems with minor aliasing in the transfer, that does tend to become a little distracting: examples include the roof at 9:08, the wall at 41:23, the bus trim at 62:47 and the steps at 95:08. In themselves, none of these are that bad, but they are just a bit noticeable and do ultimately detract a little from the DVD. There are a few rather obvious film artefacts in the transfer, which is a little disappointing.

    This is an RSDL formatted effort, with the layer change coming at 78:57. In a word, it is a terrible layer change. There is a fade to black scene change at 78:55 and just as the picture comes back, boom - the layer change, accompanied by a paused semi-ghostly image on the screen that is far too obvious.

    Regrettably, there are no English subtitles on the DVD. This is a serious omission as far as Hearing Impaired readers will be concerned.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    The dialogue and music comes up well in the transfer and is easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems in the transfer.

    Since the focus of the film is a brass band, naturally enough just about all the music in the film is brass band music. And that is quite an eclectic range of stuff, from arrangements of classical music such as Rodrigo's Concerto De Aranjuez (a.k.a. Concerto De Orange Juice) through more specifically written brass band music. All the original stuff is from Trevor Jones, but most of what is here are arrangements of other pieces. Since I am quite a fan of the brass band, I probably have a stronger favourable opinion on the soundtrack than would someone who does not have such an interest. It does not hurt that the music is performed by one of the truly great British brass bands in the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. The soundtrack album is a sterling effort in my view.

    The fact that it is brass band music is one of the reasons why I miss a full blown 5.1 soundtrack for the film. I cannot help but feel that the music would have had a much greater impact if there was the full suite of channels on offer, especially with the added presence that would be afforded by the bass channel. Still, no point bemoaning what we have not got, when what we do get is quite reasonable indeed.

    Sure, there is not a huge amount of presence to the sound, since this lacks any serious surround channel use, but overall there is a decent soundscape on offer here. I would perhaps quibble a little about the clarity of the sound here and wonder whether a 224 Kb/s transfer would have opened up the sound a little more, and allow a more natural presence to the music. Still, it is free from any distortions or blemishes and it is very easy on the ear, so why raise such minor issues?

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A reasonably decent collection of extras have been assembled here, albeit one that would genuinely have been improved by an audio commentary.

Menus

    Nothing much wrong with these, even though the main menu does not look especially terrific. The menus are all 16x9 enhanced with the main menu being further enhanced with audio and animation.

Production Notes

    One of the more extensive efforts seen outside of a Universal release, these are reasonably informative efforts too. The twelve pages provide a good insight into the making of the film.

Synopsis

    This is something of a rarity on a movie DVD, and to some extent I suppose it is a tad redundant. It is, however, a decent overview of the film and the five pages are worth a read.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Whilst only covering the three main leads (Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor) and the director as well as the producer Steve Abbott, what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in volume. Tara Fitzgerald's effort runs to fifteen pages! In the strictest sense, they are not really biographies but a mixture of character details, biography and filmography. Quite well done even if they are not exactly right up to date.

Interviews - Cast and Crew (9:05)

    Further reduced to just the three leads and the director, these comprise short snippets of interviews cobbled together. Since there is probably more of the material available, it is disappointing that we don't get a much more extensive and integral effort than this. They are presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The sound is in general rather echoy and not of the highest quality imaginable. Not really the most essential efforts I have ever seen, but a nice enough inclusion.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (10:54)

    Something of a misnomer to call this a featurette really, as it is purely footage shot during the filming of the scenes at Piece Hall in Halifax. It comes completely devoid of any narration and the only sound you get is the usual limited dialogue of people shouting action, cut, turnover and the like. As such, this is not the most exciting presentation you could ever wish to see, even if it does in a way provide an interesting look at the effort that goes into filming what on appearances is quite a simple scene. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing much wrong with this technically.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this film comes from the unrevered studio of Miramax, well known for their rather consumer unfriendly DVD packages. So unfriendly is the Region 1 release that it apparently misses out on:     Conversely, the Region 4 release misses out on:     It should be noted, however, that reliable reviews of the film are not easy to find and the usual, preferred sources that we use simply lacked any reviews. So therefore we are having to rely on details from less reliable sources. Nonetheless, on the basis of what we can find out, Region 4 is well and truly the way to go.

    However, this film has been available on DVD in Region 2 for some time and that is perhaps the most logical comparison that should be made. The Region 2 release misses out on:

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     In addition, the Biographies on the Region 2 release are slightly different and more like genuine biographies. The interviews also come is a somewhat less echoy sound. Whilst I was expecting the Region 4 release to be just a rehash of the Region 2 release, it clearly is not. Nonetheless the actual transfer itself looks fairly similar, and on the balance would probably be in favour of the Region 4 release overall. However, if you have the Region 2 release, I would not be rushing out to replace it.

Summary

    Brassed Off! is not just one of the best British films of the past twenty years, but is one of the best films of the past twenty years. A beautifully crafted story brought to realisation by a great cast, providing every ounce of believability is just one of the high points of the film. As a story of a brass band in a tough situation, it succeeds wonderfully well, but as one of the best political commentaries of the devastation wrought upon ordinary workers by the Conservative governments of Maggie Thatcher, it is simply stunning. Whilst in a perfect world, the video transfer would have been slightly better overall, there is nothing that bad about it. A perfect world too would have seen a full blown 5.1 soundtrack, but the audio transfer is more than acceptable as it is. One day we will hopefully get to see the results of a perfect world, but until then only the most fastidious are going to find anything to complain about here. There are a few British films that should be in every collection - this is definitely one of those films. Recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, September 07, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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