Billy Elliot (2000)
Billy's a Boogier Not a Boxer
Miss, you don't fancy me do, do you? - Billy
In the midst of the strikes during Thatcher's 80s young Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) finds himself attracted to dance when after attending the local boy's boxing club he comes across Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) teaching girl's ballet. Encouraged by Mrs. Wilkinson's daughter Debbie (Nicola Blackwell) and his best friend Michael (Stuart Wells) who is in the process of dealing with his own sexuality Billy starts secretly taking ballet classes which causes major issues when his father, Jackie (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven), two red blooded miners who are on the picket line, learn of this. Banning Billy from the class Mrs. Wilkinson thinks he has potential and starts teaching him privately as she thinks he could make it in to the London ballet school. But the question is will his dad and brother come around to this especially when they are struggling financially due to the picketing.
"Billy Elliot" is a crowd pleaser, an amusing drama about a young boy growing up in a fictional 80s mining town who takes a shine to dancing, ballet dancing at that. By calling it a crowd pleaser isn't cheapening the movie because "Billy Elliot" is well put together with entertaining performances, a great soundtrack and depth which combine to make it both entertaining and uplifting. And to be honest any movie which then leads to a successful West End and Broadway musical must have something about it because shallow movies do not make their way on to stage.
There are 3 things which are going on in "Billy Elliot" and I will start with not the main one but one which I feel is handled brilliantly and that is the situation of a mining town during Thatcher's 80s. Now there are movies which become preachy when focusing on this era but we don't get that in "Billy Elliot" instead we get a realistic look at the situation. We see the hard times the picketers faced as they battled to save their jobs and we also see what it meant if you broke the picket line. It doesn't force whether what is happening is right or wrong, just makes its case by showing how things were for those involved.
This leads to the second part which focuses on Billy's dad Jackie and he is both a complex and well acted character with praise going to Gary Lewis for getting it right. Lewis takes us on this journey as to start with Jackie seems a Northern stereotype, a miner who drinks at the men's social club and thinks dancing is girly, or words to that affect. But as we watch the family situation deepens with his eldest son Tony becoming more outspoken and angry whilst finances dry up we watch him change. Yes it is a big leap to accept this change but we watch as he sees dancing as a chance for Billy to better himself and he feels remorse for letting Billy and the family down having become an angry miner rather than a father.
But of course there is also the main storyline and in many ways the most cliche as we have Billy finding something he loves to do and then finding the courage to stand up for it. I say cliche because in many ways "Billy Elliot" is like a sports movie where we have a child determined to be the best despite disapproval from his parents. But it works and Jamie Bell in his debut is easy to get behind because he is both cheeky and vulnerable making us laugh at him but at the same time sympathise with him.
All of this is delivered in this wonderful musical mix of dance, drama and humour from dramatic visualizations of the picket lines to Billy's amusing relationships. Those include best friend Michael who is discovering his sexuality and enjoyment of cross dressing to the relationship Billy has with Mrs. Wilkinson. And on that note there is Julie Walter's who mannerism and tone of her voice provides so many great smile moments, from chain smoking whilst teaching ballet to the one on one conversations she has with Billy in her car.
What this all boils down to is that "Billy Elliot" is a crowd pleaser as it delivers entertainment, dance, humour and drama whilst also offering up some depth. It makes you smile, laugh and come the end you will feel uplifted which in my books makes it a better than average movie which despite being over a decade old never gets boring.
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