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April 2011 Posts

07/04/2011 09:19:24

Brassed Off

Introduction

Brassed Off, directed by Mark Herman and released in 1996, stars Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Tompkinson and Ewan McGregor. Strangely marketed as a comedy, this film tells the very moving story of impending mass redundancies in Grimley, a Yorkshire mining town, when its profitable colliery is threatened with closure.

It is set in 1992, at a time of great change in the coal industry, and chooses to focus on the lives of the miners who play in the Grimley Colliery Brass Band. The band is led by their passionate conductor Danny, who is determined to take the group to the finals of the National Championships at the Albert Hall. The late Pete Postlethwaite plays Danny, in one of his most acclaimed performances. This film was said to have played a part in the inspiration for The Coalfield Regeneration programme set up in the late 1990s to improve the quality of life in Britain’s coalfield communities.

Brassed off

The Film

The opening scene shows us some miners finishing a shift at the coalface before transforming into cleanly scrubbed workers clocking off. We first meet the all male group of musicians soon after that at their rehearsal where they are joined by a young woman called Gloria, who is visiting Grimley, and turns out to be the grand daughter of a former member of the band. An exception is made to the all male constitution of the band by allowing her to join them, after an audition in which she proves that she will be an asset to them in their quest to win the National Championships.

 

A love interest develops between Gloria and a young man in the band called Andy, which provides one of several storylines, as it becomes clear that Gloria’s presence in the town has something to do with the potential closure of Grimley’s coalmine. Through the following scenes, the film introduces us to the respective families and partners of each of the main members of the band and we come to understand the precarious financial predicament that some of them are in as they contemplate redundancy.

 

As Brassed Off progresses, the miners are offered a very favourable redundancy package by management, which many can’t resist and when a majority vote to accept the deal, pit closure becomes inevitable. One of those accepting the offer is Danny’s son, Phil, who is the trombonist in the band. He is already struggling to survive as a result of debts he accrued from the lengthy strike action he took ten years earlier. We watch him develop depression as he struggles to provide for his wife and four children. Unable to share his problems with anyone, he struggles to earn money as a children’s entertainer called Mr Chuckles. His serious financial predicament only comes to light with the arrival of two moneylenders at his front door, who demand the immediate payment of his debts before taking all of the possessions from his home. As a result, his wife leaves, taking the children with her, because she can no longer cope with such an impoverished life. At this point, Phil finds himself completely alone, having lost his job, his wife, his children and the contents of his house. When his father collapses in the street and is admitted to hospital with coal related lung disease, Phil attempts suicide.

The miner’s band seems likely to collapse after these events but doesn’t and they manage to keep the hope of National Championships alive as they struggle to hold on to their self esteem and community identity through their music, at the same time as contemplating a period of great personal uncertainty.

 

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

Brassed Off provides an ideal platform to discuss the effects that job insecurity and involuntary redundancy can have on the mental health of individuals and their families. Using the example of Phil and his family, the film provides us with an unfolding case history in which to consider the precipitating triggers for his depression and attempted suicide. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of purposeful goal directed activity, both paid and unpaid, in maintaining an individual’s self esteem and self worth.

In the current economic climate in which there are, once again, threats of large-scale job losses, Brassed Off’s themes may be as pertinent to our society now as it was in the 1990s. With the recent announcement that the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, is to close its R&D establishment in Sandwich, Kent, where 2,400 jobs will be lost (Guardian newspaper; 1st February 2011), there is concern about the effect that this will have on the town and its surrounding area. A whole infrastructure has grown up to cater for the staff and their families at the Pfizer plant and local groups talk of devastation to the surrounding environs when the facility closes. In a very direct way the issues portrayed in the film are relevant to the community in Sandwich.

 

An editorial in the March 2011 edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry by Dunlop and Mletzko entitled Will current socioeconomic trends produce a depressing future for men? ( BJPsych 2011 198, 167-168) discusses the topic some have called ‘Mancession’, reminding readers that approximately 75% of jobs lost since the beginning of the recession in 2007 were held by men. This is because the construction and manufacturing industries have been disproportionately affected by redundancies in the past few years.

 

An article entitled Job insecurity, socio-economic circumstances and depression by Meltzer H, Bebbington P, Brugha T; Psychol Med 2010 Aug (40(8): 1401-7) considers the topic of job insecurity in the context of the current economic difficulties in the UK and concludes that job insecurity has a strong association with feelings of depression in the people that they studied.

 

An interesting editorial in the BMJ from 2009, reviews the topic of Unemployment and Health (BMJ 2009; 338:b829). Written by Danny Dorling, professor of human geography, the article discusses the effects of mass unemployment on physical and mental health by reflecting on past epidemics and highlights how young adults, in particular, are affected. These topics are all brought to life by a viewing of Brassed Off and the film is surely relevant to all mental health professionals, as well as those working in primary care, as the UK faces a period of time characterised by spending cuts and rising unemployment.

 

For more specific advice on how to approach the consequences of losing ones job, the NHS choices website has an excellent short video called ‘coping with redundancy’, as well as plenty of other information on managing the health consequences of threatened or actual job loss.

 

  • More information about Brassed Off is available at IMDB.
  • The DVD can be purchased at amazon.co.uk.

Minds on Film is written by Dr Joyce Almeida.

 

 

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida

Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.

 


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