A heartwarming picture that presses all the right emotional buttons as it pits a young boy wanting to do an impossible thing against small town stereotyping. In it are themes of dysfunctional families, persistence against bitter rigidity, individuality, machismo, anti-machismo, art in the context of class struggle and the discovery of love within a family. Heady stuff.
Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) at 11 years of age is the youngest of two sons in a motherless family being reared by Dad (Gary Lewis), a miner in a small northern town in England. Tony, Billy's older brother (Jamie Draven), is not only a fellow miner to his dad, but a union organizer, deeply entrenched in scab-busting business during the 1984 miners' strike. Policemen with large glass shields provide the exterior background for the interior discipline of dance class as they line the streets in readiness for any outbreak of strike combat.
When Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher (in a very effective role by Julie Walters) brings her ballet class to the gym to share space with the boxing ring, Billy sees it and is soon in love with dancing, seeing dance shoes as a replacement for his boxing gloves. From there, against titanic odds, he struggles to pursue the activity and train his young athleticism into dance movement. Breaking tradition is only the start of why Dad, brother and most of the town make it nearly impossible for him. Billy's driving force, however, is in bringing out his latent talent. His teacher is there for him like his own family isn't.
Anyone who has experienced the joy in the results of physical training will feel with Billy as his first awkward movements begin to improve and eventually show signs of excellence. And, in dance, this translates into a mastery, or the illusion of mastery, of gravity. Jamie Bell is, indeed, a proficient dancer, and it's refreshing to see a young actor so satisfying in his role. There's no mock effects or editorial assistance utilized to make him appear to be a dancer. Here, the camera does what it should: show his dance routines in extended full figure for the audience to see what he can do. And, he makes his body move.
The evolution of this story is well paced and designed to wring all the emotion possible out of the boy's contentions against a sour and bitter father, a role-model brother who could care less about role-modeling, and the inevitable sexual stereotyping of men in dance. The fun of it is in going through all that with him, however futile the undertaking appears to be.
"Billy Elliot" is a modest film, done with a well selected band of fine actors and a script by Lee Hall that contains a kind of spirit few films achieve. If anything, it's contrived for that effect and I found myself being conscious of an older actor having a touch too much control over his 11-year old depiction. But at least I was conscious (not too long at 104 minutes) and finally was willing to go with a script that was essentially in control of reality and good thematic material. It's probably wrong to get too picky with a movie that contains characters that represent people who might have actually gone through these events. In short, it's plausible, not too sugar coated, and it works.
Estimated cost: $5,000,000. Projected U.S. Boxoffice: $18,000,000.
Rated DD for Devoted to Dance.