We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Ewan McGregor and Pete Poslethwaite star in this typically British bittersweet comedy about a Yorkshire mining town turning to music for inspiration when faced with the loss of its way of life.
The impact of Conservative Party energy policy on a small Yorkshire mining town may not sound like fertile ground for comedy. Nor indeed is the trombone a likely instrument for political dissent. However Mark Herman's Brassed Off successfully blends the personal and the political, and though the setting is dour, the result is an angry yet frequently uplifting tale of community empowerment featuring a committed British cast.
Set in the northern town of Grimley in 1992, the story deals with the imminent closure of the town's coal mine - the area's only significant source of employment. Among the protestors are cocky worker Andy (Ewan McGregor) and struggling family man Phil (Steven Tompkinson). But the real focus is Phil's father Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), leader of the Grimley Colliery Brass Band. With the band already haemorrhaging musicians, the closure of the pit will mean the music's over for good.
As the nationwide Battle of the Bands Competition looms, the music - unexpectedly affecting - becomes emblematic of community and continuity. In the face of so-called progress, each of the characters endures their own personal crisis. Phil's has to do with loyalty, Danny's with his health, Andy's with the discovery that beautiful new flugelhorn player and childhood sweetheart Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) now works for the Coal Board who are seeking to shut the town down.
Herman's writing veers between the sharp and the sweet and the film mines a rich comic seam. But, like part-time children's entertainer Phil delivering a stream of bitter invective while dressed as a clown, the humour's laced with a strong sense of injustice, and the conclusion is built round a stirring condemnation of Thatcherism. An impassioned example of formula being channelled into new territory and one that boasts truckloads of wit and confidence.
The issues might be heavy but the treatment's light and the finale irresistibly moving. All involved give immensely assured performances and director-writer Herman's script is peppered with spiky gags.
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