Foursquare in the gritty-but-hearwarming tradition of Brassed Off
and The Full Monty
comes Billy Elliot
, the first film of noted British theatrical director Stephen Daldry. The setting is County Durham in 1984, and things 'oop North are even grimmer than usual: the miners' strike is in full rancorous swing and 11-year-old Billy's dad and older brother, miners both, are staunch on the picket lines. Billy's got problems of his own. His dad's scraped together the fees to send him to boxing lessons, but Billy's discovered a different aptitude: a genius for ballet dancing. Since admitting to such an activity is tantamount, in this fiercely macho culture, to holding up a sign reading "I AM A RAVING POOF", Billy keeps it quiet. But his teacher, Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters, wearily undaunted) thinks he should audition for ballet school in London. Family ructions are inevitable.
Daldry's film sidesteps some of the politics, both sexual and otherwise, but scores with its laconic dialogue (credit to screenwriter Lee Hall) and a cracking performance from newcomer Jamie Bell as Billy. His powerhouse dance routines, more Gene Kelly than Nureyev, carry an irresistible sense of exhilaration and self-discovery. Among a flawless supporting cast Stuart Wells stands out as Billy's sweet gay friend Michael. And if the miners' strike serves largely as background colour, there's one brief episode, as visored and truncheoned cops rampage through neat little terraced houses, that captures one of the most spiteful episodes in recent British history. --Philip Kemp
County Durham during the 1984 miners' strike. Young Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) becomes fascinated with the ballet lessons which are being held in the same hall as his boxing class. The ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters), recognises his potential and encourages him to join her class. As his talent gradually reveals itself, it becomes clear that Billy should be attending the Royal Ballet School in London, but with his father's opposition and the extreme poverty which descends on the area during the strike, Billy's future is far from certain. BAFTA awards were won by both Bell (Best Actor) and Walters (Best Supporting Actress). The Special Edition video also contains a 46 minute documentary about Jamie Bell called 'The Billy Elliot Boy', made by the film's director Stephen Daldry.