|Directed by:||Stephen Daldry|
|Written by:||Lee Hall|
|Starring:||Julie Walters, Jamie Bell, Jamie Draven, Gary Lewis, Jean Heywood|
|Released:||November 2, 2000|
Every year we hear talk about an independent British film made on a shoestring budget that will steal the hearts of Americans and figure prominently at the Academy Awards (e.g. The Full Monty and Four Weddings & A Funeral). This year, Billy Elliot is Britain's heavyweight contender and not only does it meet the reputation preceding it, it’s one of the greatest films of all time!
Billy’s mother passed away last year and at age 11 he lives with his older brother Tony (Draven) and his dad (Lewis), both coal miners in a small Northern Ireland town. The community is at boiling point with the miners on an enduring strike demanding better pay and the companies are refusing to concede to their demands.
Billy is given 50 pence each week by dad for boxing lessons but when he see the girls being taught ballet in the same hall, something inside tells him it’s more his style. The ballet instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (Walters), sees talent in Billy and persuades him to get serious so that he can audition for a spot at the Royal Ballet School in London. Initially, Billy is doubtful, thinking that all male ballet dancers are “poofs” but the creative flair he has within is just waiting to burst out - he yearns to dance. However, when his father and brother get word of the lessons, they’re determination to put a stop to it will be just one of many hurdles Billy will have to cross.
I have described Billy Elliot as apt I could but I cannot express the feeling and sentiment that any audience member will appreciate. I was engrossed from opening to close and it was impossible not to get caught in Billy’s emotional story with its laughter, surprises, suspense and tears.
Director Stephen Daldry is a newcomer to filmmaking but is backed but a strong career in the theatre - his style is different. During many of the film’s pivotal scenes, several stories are tied in by being shown at once, during the same song, with the camera crossing back and forth quickly between the stories. He also uses well-crafted camera angles and subtly shows other characters in the background when focusing on one individual.
Lee Hall’s screenplay is also exceptional. It revolves around the miners’ strike that actually did happen in 1984 and to which Hall was a witness. Yet amongst all the bitterness it caused between families and in the community, he manages to craft a beautiful story between a boy and his father. They share a scene on a fence near the film’s end that epitomises this beauty but the triumphant scene came when Billy danced in front of his father in the boxing hall to the music of composer Stephen Warbeck.
It’s the little things that make the screenplay so rewarding. The moment where Mrs. Wilkinson reads the letter from Billy’s mom. The moment where Billy kisses Michael on the cheek and simply says “I’ll see you then”. The moment where Billy and his father argue about the merits of ballet. The moment Tony and his dad share at the mine when he crosses the picket line. The moment when Billy asks “Miss, you don’t fancy me do you?” The moment when Billy describes what it feels like when he’s dancing. The moment where Billy opens the envelope from the Royal Ballet School. Every scene as special as the next and will be long treasured.
The finale is a masterpiece in itself. As Billy heads away, we see his father and brother going down the mine, Mrs. Wilkinson alone in the boxing hall and Billy alone on the bus. All their lives have been touched by Billy’s electricity but now they return to the drone that is their lives – it’s the most moving part of the film. In showing Billy at age 25 and then crossing to flashes of Billy jumping on his bed at age 11, we see just how far Billy has come. He was once just a small boy with a big dream…
13-year old Jamie Bell plays Billy Elliot in a performance that will have you breathless. Beating out over 2,000 others for the role, Jamie’s first film will be remembered for his refreshing innocence and his bashful smile. Jamie has striking similarities with Billy in that he has been dancing since the age of 6 and hidden the talent from even his closest friends. Since the film’s release, Jamie has been heckled by many for a kissing scene with another boy and had to hire bodyguards as a result. It makes you wonder why people are insecure enough to focus on such an insignificant detail. I’m sure they’re the same people who bag guys for getting into ballet and who provided the motivation for Billy Elliot in the first place. Can a 13-year-old take home the best actor Oscar? This is as good a chance as any. The brilliant Julie Walters and Gary Lewis can also star preparing themselves for several acceptance speeches in the new year.
It is ironic that whilst not a film based on a true story, this is a true story based on a film in that Jamie’s life has many parallels with the screenplay. It’s in a class of it’s own - a feel-good rollercoaster that words will never describe. It’s “once in a lifetime” films like Billy Elliot that inspire people, including myself, to make the most of one’s life. A flawless masterpiece.