Billy Elliot (2000)
January 10, 2023 7:52 AM - Subscribe

The life of 11-year-old Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell), a coal miner's son in Northern England, is forever changed one day when he stumbles upon a ballet class during his weekly boxing lesson. Before long, he finds himself in dance, demonstrating the kind of raw talent seldom seen by the class' exacting instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson. With a tart tongue and a never-ending stream of cigarettes in her hand, Mrs. Wilkinson's zest for teaching is revived when she sees Billy's potential.

Also starring Gary Lewis, Julie Walters, Jean Heywood, Jamie Draven, Stuart Wells, Mike Elliot, Billy Fane, Nicola Blackwell, Carol McGuigan, Zoë Bell.

Directed by Stephen Daldry. Written by Lee Hall.

85% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Starz. Also available for digital rental. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (7 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. Jamie Bell is so talented, and I also love Gary Lewis' performance as Billy's father. I always felt Lewis was robbed and should have been nominated for so many awards for this role - his performance is heartbreaking.

I've always looked at this movie not just as a coming of age story about a young boy discovering his talent with an amazing mentor, but as an extended meditation on grief, and the healing power of art. Billy's family is so choked by their unprocessed grief over Billy's mother's death - it fucks them all up in different ways - and you can see seeds of Mrs Wilkinson also suffering her own grief (her troubled marriage, her being stuck in a small town teaching little girls ballet, perhaps resentful of not having had her own opportunity to pursue dance seriously?).

And of course, the grief in the whole town, being so badly affected by the miners' strike - and what a doomed endeavor it was, given the limited reserves of coal left to mine anyway. It's a mining town - being a miner is literally the only real job prospect for so many people. I went down a rabbit hole once looking into the events surrounding the miners' strike depicted in this film (it's based on a real strike) and inevitably many mining towns like the one in the film all had their mines shut down throughout the 90s. It makes me wonder what happens when an industry dies, and a community is lost. It makes me wonder what that does politically to a miner who has lost his livelihood forever. Labor unions striking is one of the most leftist actions ever, and it turns out that now, many former miners who lost their jobs when the mines were shut down ultimately became heavily in favor of Brexit - a decidedly right-wing cause.

Anyway. Lots of stuff going on in this film behind the scenes, but the dancing sequences are gorgeous and Jamie Bell captures that feeling of joy while creating art so well, in a way that is immensely relatable to me as a musician processing my own unprocessed grief over my mother's death.
posted by nayantara at 8:55 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]

I think that's a good take on the film. To those thoughts on grief, I'd add that the film has a lot to say about how arbitrary standards of what is and is not acceptably masculine can brutally and mostly pointlessly limit the male ability to express emotion, whether it be grief or even joy.

I think if Billy had taken to wearing a hairshirt and diligently praying to the Virgin Mary all day, it might have irritated his dad, but it would not have threatened or befuddled him in the same way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:04 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

I saw Billy Elliot when it came out, when I was the same age as the titular character and also beginning to realise that my desire to make art:
- was going to be my ticket out of the depressing, dying town where I lived
- was going to force me to leave the depressing, dying town where most of the people I loved also lived

The soundtrack was absolutely formative for me, for which I am forever grateful. Love this movie tremendously.
posted by blessmycottonsocks at 2:52 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

On an MPAA-related note, this film was rated R in the US, presumably due to a few F-bombs in the script and a scene where a striker moons some police and a librarian. Arnold Schwarzenegger's The 6th Day was in cinemas at the same time (in the US, at least), rated PG-13 despite graphic portrayals of people being impaled, burned alive, etc.

(I'm not sharing this as any kind of revelation or anything, but just a great example of the weirdly biased rating system for theatrical films here.)
posted by abraxasaxarba at 4:23 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

I'd add that the film has a lot to say about how arbitrary standards of what is and is not acceptably masculine can brutally and mostly pointlessly limit the male ability to express emotion, whether it be grief or even joy.

Oh yes absolutely! Whenever I watch this I notice the way Jackie and Tony carry themselves when they are just walking around town - straight posture, arms swinging, chest puffed our - like they are putting up a shield with their own corporeality. And then we see Billy, who fidgets, taps his toes, becomes more and more comfortable with moving his body in graceful (and by implication more "feminine") ways. How to define "appropriate" masculinity is a huge theme in this film. Billy even points out to his dad how much physical strength and stamina is needed to be a successful dancer and Jackie just doesn't get it. His gradual acceptance of Billy's dreams and his appreciation for his talent is such an amazing thing to watch. Again, I'm so sad that Gary Lewis didn't get more acclaim for this performance. God, that scene where he's chopping up his late wife's piano to burn for heat at Xmas, choking back sobs, and then breaks down crying during dinner, it kills me. He just doesn't know how to deal with his emotions, and they finally start to force their way out that night - and that's the night he catches Billy dancing in the boxing hall and he's cracked open emotionally enough to see his son's talent and passion finally. Oof.
posted by nayantara at 6:34 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

I love it as an example of how sometimes, the lightning strikes and you discover "yes, this - this thing RIGHT HERE is what I want." And my god, yeah, Gary Lewis is amazing.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:49 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

I love this movie - one of my favorites. I love the music, the juxtapositions of what is happening in the foreground and background, the joy of Billy dancing, the internal journeys of Billy, his brother, and his Dad. I’ve described it to others as a movie about learning how to be a man - and think it would be great if all men in our Western cultures (North America, UK, etc.) watch it. I still refuse to see the musical on Broadway - I feel like so much of the nuances and deep takeaways would be lost. Happy to be proven wrong, though.
posted by jilloftrades at 6:11 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

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