Movie Review: Billy Elliot (2000)

Title: Billy Elliot

Director: Stephen Daldry

Starring: Jamie Bell, Gary Lewis, Julie Walters

Rating: A+

Recommended?: Yes!

Genre: Drama

Watched On: DVD


People who know me may know that Billy Elliot is one of my favorite movies of all time, it’s got a little bit of everything; lovable characters, great performances, humor, emotional tearjerking moments, and one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever seen. Inspirational underdog films are a dime a dozen, but Billy Elliot is something really special, a humanistic gem with characters it is easy to become emotionally invested in and a storyline that, while uplifting, is not afraid to touch on some darker subject matter.

 

The film is about an eleven-year-old English boy (who’s name is, predictably, Billy) living during the miner’s strikes in 1984 who quite accidently discovers a love for the ballet, much to the chagrin of his working class miner father Jackie (Gary Lewis.) Billy is mentored by a curmudgeonly older woman named Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) and discovers that he has talent… in fact, he has a lot of talent, but Billy can’t seem to get through to his father that ballet dancing ‘isn’t just for poofs’ and get the approval of him or his pugilistic older brother, Tony (Jamie Draven.)

 

Billy has two people crushing on him, his gay best friend Michael (Stuart Wells) and Mrs. Wilkinson’s precocious daughter Debbie (Nicola Blackwell,) and in some ways Billy’s coming-of-age is universal; he’s dealing with the helplessness of being young and seeing things unfold beyond your control and he’s gradually separating himself from his family. But Billy is also living in politically fraught times and to his father and brother pursuing an interest in ballet isn’t just inappropriately feminine or frivolous, it’s actually disrespectful to Jackie and Tony’s values and the seriousness of what they’re going through.

 

Jamie Bell gives an appealing, emotionally engaging performance but Gary Lewis steals the show as Jackie. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this guy in another major role, but his performance in this film is heartbreaking. The character of Jackie could be flat and one-dimensional, a caricature who exists only to try to prevent Billy from achieving his goals, but Lewis makes Jackie into a complex and emotionally wrenching creation, a man who has almost lost everything and, while angry and narrow-minded, can only do as much as he’s emotionally capable of. Gary Lewis also makes Jackie’s acceptance of his son, which could otherwise seem abrupt, into a natural and organic moment.

 

Despite the R rating (for harsh language, which considering the setting is certainly not out of context), Billy Elliot is probably a fine watch for most young teens, depending on their maturity and their parent’s personal viewpoints. It’s probably actually less objectionable than a lot of PG-13 rated horror movies that are pimped out to a young audience, and it will get a lot of discussions started among families, particularly about the historical events that are portrayed in the film and about gender roles. I’m generally the kind of viewer who primarily watches much darker movies but this is one of the feel-good movies that I absolutely love, I never get sick of it.

 

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