A few days ago, Bryce at Things That Don’t Suck posted a poignant tribute to Pete Postlethwaite. He talked about the film in which he first really took note of Postlethwaite: ‘The Usual Suspects’. “He proved the biggest badass in the room without raising so much as his voice,” Bryce wrote of Postlethwaite’s character, the mysterious Kobayashi; “let alone his fist.”
Pete Postlethwaite was a magnet; put him in any film, be it small scale or big budget, be it a starring role or little more than a cameo, it was virtually guaranteed that he’d deliver the most memorable performance.
For me, it was ‘Brassed Off’ that opened my eyes to the man’s brilliance. It’s an uneven film, veering from affable working class humour to ladled-on melodrama. The dialogue runs the gamut from zinging one-liners to absolute clunckers. Its backdrop is the miner’s strike, which was already becoming the big clichéd backdrop to British cinema when ‘Brassed Off’ came out 13 years ago. (My granddad was a miner; my dad was a truck driver and knew other drivers who had their lorries pelted with half bricks for attempted strike-breaking. No film has yet depicted what that period of time was like in this country.)
The scene that did it for me comes when Postlethwaite’s gruff but avuncular bandleader is laid up in hospital. The other members of the colliery band gather outside the hospital and, much to the chagrin of the nursing staff, launch into an arranged-for-brass version of ‘Danny Boy’. In an exchange of dialogue that by rights just shouldn’t work, Postlethwaite asks the nurse who has arrived to check his pulse and heart rate, “Is it going like shit off a hot shovel?”
“If you mean is your heart beating fast,” the nurse replies drily, “then yes.”
“Aye,” Postlethwaite muses, “allus does when they play that one.”
(i.m. Pete Postlethwaite, 7 February 1946 – 2 January 2011)