The first time I watched the film, I would have been around 12 or 13. Admittedly, it didn’t stick much in my mind. The stand out scene was a man dressed as a clown attempting to commit suicide by hanging from scaffolding. It’s something which was always going to stand out when coming on screen. Yet the context behind the scene which sees Phil, played by Stephen Tomkinson, wanting to end his life was at the time of this first viewing, beyond me.
‘Brassed Off’ is a cross examination of a mining village in the mid-1990s. Many of the mines which the fictional Grimley Colliery depicts had shut or were in the process of closing, at an approximate loss of a quarter of a million jobs. The film shows the brutal prospect of mining communities losing their main source of employment and the influence which a mines brass band could have. There is crude juxtaposition between the colliery band’s success in a national competition and the demise of the pit which all its members work at.
By 1996, the time of when ‘Brassed Off’ was released, the British coal mining industry was being systematically dismantled. The strike of 1984/85 had eventually broken the strong resilience of UK mining communities with over 100 mines closing over this ten-year period.
The beginning of the end of the UK mining industry came before I was aware of such important societal events. Growing up I became aware of the rich mining tapestry of the north east of England. Being born in Sunderland and growing up in Peterlee, County Durham, it would have taken an intense amount of obliviousness to not come across relics of coal mining. Add into this having a Granddad who spent his working life as a miner, finding out about the industry and its impact on the region and country in general was a fascinating inevitability.
Watching Brassed Off for a second time brought with it a whole new perspective. As well as no longer living in the north east, a new job has since moved me to the Cambrian Coast of west wales, the second viewing came after writing about the 1984–85 miners’ strike for my final university project. Researching texts and interviewing people involved in the strike were my main ways of gaining insight of the demise of UK coal mining.
Pop culture was something which I didn’t look too much into, but ‘Brassed Off’ addresses a period sometimes forgotten about. Coal mining didn’t cease to exist as soon as the year long strike in March 1985, this film looks at how collieries were under increasing threat still ten years later. It is one of the first films which made me realise the importance of watching a film more than once in order to grasp deeper meaning.
‘Brassed Off’ investigates a mining community which was able to avoid the initial widespread closures following the strike. It highlights the extent which miners and their families were pushed to under a government which was determined to rid the country of coal mining, without considering the social consequences of having so many skilled workers unemployed.
It is a film which successfully covers the best and the worst of a coal mining community at the end of its lifespan. Hundreds and hundreds of years of mining tradition were resigned to the history books in a matter of months, in some cases. Thousands of workers and their families were hung out to dry once the UK moved on from coal.
It’s not that the end of the coal industry was a bad thing, it is very beneficial to the environment going forward, it’s more the way that people who gave everything for the industry were essentially tossed to one side and almost forgotten about.
‘Brassed Off’ depicts hard working honest people who were swimming against the current of a government determined to forget their communities existence.