Film Review: Billy Elliot

Coal miners, picket lines and, uh, a pair of ballet shoes...

Hands up who hasn’t been made attend ‘recreational classes’ as a child? I know I tried everything out at least once but never seemed to find something to be completely passionate about.

Jamie Bell in a scene from the film 'Billy Elliot'Billy Elliot is a boy who is divided between a need to live up to his father’s expectations, and a need to be true to himself, as his mother requested in her last letter to her growing boy. A spectacular feature debut from Stephen Daldry (director of the short film 'Eight' which won an Academy award in 1998), 'Billy Elliot' is not just an ordinary coming of age tale. Yes, we have seen the formula before – the working class hero rising above his circumstances and succeeding in the face of adversity. However, it has been a long time since a film so perfectly balanced humour with pathos, or dramatic tension with sheer entertainment, drawing an audience demographic of arthouse aficionados as well as 'Mr.. and Mrs. Popcorn Head'. A stunning emotional performance from young newcomer Jamie Bell - he brings a mature sensitivity to the character of Billy who is driven by a powerful passion for dancing.

While Elliot is supposed to be boxing he is really sneaking off to join in with the ballet classes attended otherwise by little girls in tutus. Set against the bleak and often violent backdrop of the miner’s strike in Durham in 1984, Billy’s world is certainly one to yearn for an escape from. Like Lynne Ramsey’s 'Ratcatcher' whose male protagonist disappears from the ‘real world’ of strikes and poverty into fantasy, Elliot allows ballet to take over his body, which feels “like disappearing, like electricity.” Having lost his mother, the young lad has to contend with looking after a senile grandmother, while having only his emotionally distant father (Gary Lewis) and macho aggressive brother as role models. This film shows how an all consuming passion can help an individual to find their inner strength to stand up for what they believe. Elliot’s determination to succeed is fuelled by a need to be good at something, something every child searches for. He needs to make his father proud, even if it means challenging the stubborn old man to re-assess his ideas of what a boy can and cannot do. The characters in this film surprise the viewer with their ability to see beyond prejudice and to change for the better.

Julie Waters is fantastic as the frustrated, sarcastic, chain smoking ballet instructor who hides her admiration for Elliot behind a thin veil of wit. His raw talent reawakens her determination and she takes on his case as though he was her own son. Although we identify strongly with the young star, it is his father who provides the most inspiring and heart wrenching scene, giving up on what he believes in order to save his son from the dreamless reality of a tradesman’s existence. “He might be a genius”, his father exclaims no longer worried that his boy might be a “puff”. He is proud and willing to do anything to support him.

This is a film is about chasing your dreams, and accepting those who are different because - sometimes - the rules of who you can love, what you can do and who you should be are meant to be broken. Definitely a musical treat, and something which, though at times incredibly sad, will leave you smiling for hours.

Anna Keeling