Coming of Age: Billy Elliot

In Billy Elliot, a young man from a working class British family has to deal with affects of realizing his life’s calling is the Ballet.

BILLY ELLIOT (2000)
Starring: Jamie Bell, Julie Waters, Gary Lewis and Jamie Draven
Written by: Lee Hall
Distributed by: Universal Focus and BBC Films
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
110 minutes

When your brother, your father and most likely your great grandfather have all grown up to work in the local mine, what do you do when you realize that what you want to do with your life is dance…Ballet? This is the question asked by Billy Elliot, the fantastic directorial debut of Stephen Daldry (who would later go on to make one of my all-time favourite films, The Hours (2004)).

What I love the most about this film is that while it’s a pull at the heartstrings, feel good kind of coming of age story, it always manages to stay grounded. Because of this, never once does the film induce an eye roll or gag reflex, even at the most sentimental of moments.

Set during the 1984-1985 miners’ strike in England, Billy (Jamie Bell) is a young man basically raising himself. His  brother Tony (Jamie Draven) is completely consumed with the affects of the strike, while his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) drags around the house like a zombie unable to get over the death of Tony and Billy’s mother.  And on top of all that, Billy’s grandmother is slowly starting to lose her marbles. Desperate for his father’s attention and approval, Billy decides to  join the local boxing club. Good British lads, after all, do manly  things like  boxing.

But after a few boxing  lessons, Billy  quickly realizes what he’s more interested in is the ballet class going on the other side of the social club. With Jackie too out of it to notice and Tony too angry at the world to give a damn what  he does,  Billy starts secretly going to ballet lessons. Within his first lesson, his teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Waters)  is  intrigued to realize  this weird little kid is also a dance  prodigy and begins to encourage Billy he should be leaving Durnham to get the proper training he needs.

As with most British productions, every actor in this film is completely solid. As Billy, Jamie Bell isn’t just a cute kid with ballet slippers, but a sad, confused young boy who learns to fight for his dreams. Julie Waters is also great as Billy’s chain smoking, smart-ass mentor who guides Billy in the right direction. But without a doubt, the best performance in this film comes from Gary Lewis as Billy’s father. I’ve seen the film countless times and I’m still moved every time by his performance. Jackie certainly has the strongest emotional arc throughout the film; first dealing with the embarrassment and shock of realizing his son likes Ballet, then, over the course of the film, this manly working class man comes to  realize that  he loves his son no matter what he wants to do in life. Then, at  end of the film, when Jackie makes his first ever trip to London to see Billy perform onstage, Jackie  has this amazing moment of swelling pride knowing his child has managed to create something spectacular.

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