Billy Elliot

2000, Movie, R, 111 mins


This hard-knocks coming-of-age story could easily have become mired in treacly cliches. But writer Lee Hall and director Stephen Daldy transform the material into an exhilarating, funny and deeply sad story of growing pains that works on two levels; it's a feel-good story that quietly undermines the notion of gain without loss. 1984, Northern England: Adolescent Billy (Jamie Bell, making a phenomenal debut) is the son of one striking coal miner (Gary Lewis) and the brother of another (Jamie Draven); his mother is dead, and his loving grandma (Jean Heywood) is slowly sliding into senility. Billy is loved — if gruffly and sometimes cluelessly (Dad scrapes together the money for weekly boxing lessons even though Billy has no pugilistic talent whatsoever) — but adrift; his hometown offers few options beyond mining, and even that's looking dodgy. Imagine Billy's shock when the boxing gym is invaded by a flock of little girls in snowy tutus — middle-class Mrs. Wilkinson's (Julie Walters) ballet class — who have been displaced by a miner's relief center and will now be sharing space with punching bags and medicine balls. More shocking still, Billy finds himself at the barre, first on a dare from one of the fluttering girlies, then because the formidable Mrs. Wilkinson (who seems to have been born with a cigarette stuck between her lips) invites him to stay. Billy's eventual confession that he wants to study ballet seriously doesn't go down well at home for a slew of interconnected reasons — money worries, class resentment, fear of homosexuality, hardheaded conviction that there's no future in it and worry that it will take Billy away from them. Nothing is as black-and-white as it would be in a lesser movie; a shot of Billy's older brother dancing in his room to T. Rex speaks eloquently about dancing's natural allure, stripped of cultural preconceptions, and Billy's reaction to his big chance to escape grinding but familiar poverty is a pitch-perfect mix of excitement and fear. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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