Director: Stephen Daldry Cast: Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven Duration: 110 minutes
Billy Elliot is the flip side of Girlfight. While the American film is about a girl who wants to be a boxer and is opposed by her macho father but supported by her brother, the offering from this side of the Atlantic is about a boy who wants to be a ballet dancer but is opposed by his macho father and brother. Both films feature supportive adults who encourage the dreams, both oppose rigid gender definitions, both end in a big fight/dance. Girlfight is tougher, Billy Elliot sweeter.
The film, which grossed nearly £100 million at the box office, takes place in a coal mining town, where Billy (Jamie Bell) trudges off to boxing lessons for which he is ill-equipped. Life at home is tense because his father (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven) are striking miners. One day, at the other end of the village hall, he sees ballet lessons being taught by a chain-smoking disciplinarian (Julie Walters), and his eyes grow large. Soon he is shyly joining her class, the only boy in a crowd of tutus.
Billy's father equates male ballet dancers with homosexuality, but Billy doesn't seem to be gay, a fact he discovers to his sudden embarrassment during a pillow fight with his friend Debbie (Nicola Blackwell). Billy's best friend Michael (Stuart Wells) is gay, however - a cross-dresser who reaches the high point of his young life by putting on one of the tutus. Michael is attracted to Billy, who doesn't reciprocate, but seems unusually sophisticated about the implications for a boy his age.
The flick is awkwardly cobbled together, and there are big shifts in character without much explanation. Billy's dad, a supporter of the strike, not only begins to understand his son's dream, but actually becomes a strikebreaker to get money for Billy to attend an important audition. That a coal miner supports his son in pursuing a dancing dream is just about believable, but anyone who believes he would become a scab to raise the money doesn't understand much about miners in the days of Scargill.
Still, the film is as much parable and fantasy as it is realistic. The character of the transvestite Michael in particular seems based more on wishful thinking than on plausible reality; would a gay boy of his age in this neighbourhood of this town in 1984 be quite so sure of himself? Julie Walters, a 1984 Academy Award nominee for 'Educating Rita,' is spirited and colourful as the ballet teacher, and Gary Lewis is somehow convincing as the dad even when the screenplay requires him to make big offscreen swings of position. Jamie Bell is an engaging Billy, earnest and high-spirited, and a pretty good dancer, too.
The DVD was directed by Stephen Daldry, a well-known stage director, and photographed by Brian Tufano, who has one shot that perfectly illustrates the difference between how children and adults see the world. Billy's friend Debbie is walking along a fence, clicking a stick against the boards. She doesn't notice that she is suddenly walking in front of a line of cops, called up against the striking miners and carrying plastic shields; she clicks on those, too.
Cast And Film Biographies, Featurette, Interactual Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer
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