Take The Full Monty, add a sharper emotional edge, and replace the strutting strippers with a dignified British band. Thats the essence of Brassed Off, a bittersweet gem released in 1996, a year before its more popular (and Oscar-nominated) counterpart. In the Yorkshire town of Grimley, there has always been a coal mine, just as for the last 111 years there has been a brass band, and it seems that Danny (the wondrous Pete Postlethwaite) has been the director for every one of those years. Tory economic policies, however, are closing coal mines around the country in favor of nuclear power, and Grimley appears to be next on the list. Danny is unfazed by the threat, claiming, "Its music that matters." But some of the men are about to quit the band until the appearance of Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald at her most radiant), who dazzles the all-male group (including old flame Andy, played by Ewan McGregor) first with her beauty, then with her flügelhorn playing. The new member gives the band a boost as they continue to perform and compete, but closure remains very real, as director Mark Herman (Little Voice) accompanies the bands performances (played with gusto by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band) with scenes of angry labor-management confrontations and family strife. In this context, some of the characters claim that the music is an irresponsible form of escapism. It becomes clear, however, from a touching performance of "Danny Boy" to the stirring conclusion at Royal Albert Hall, that music is an expression of the human spirit, a bit of beauty and sanity in a harsh world. With defiance, the band can play "Land of Hope and Glory," even when the land offers them neither.


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