Eye For Film >> Movies >> Billy Elliot (1999) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
It is impossible not to like Billy Elliot. The boy has courage in the face of adversity. He comes through. You know he will. It is in the knowing where the problem lies.
Films as conventional and predictable as this feel safe. The stereotype is enhanced by director Stephen Daldry's old-fashioned look at working-class life up north during the miners strike - HP sauce on the table, gran in the corner, dad about to explode, crowds at the pit gate roaring at buses bringing scab labour, rain in the streets, donkey jackets, unfulfilled lives, policemen in riot gear like figures from sci-fi on telly.
Billy's not teenage yet. His mum's dead. His dad can't communicate. The anger in the man leaks into their lives, like battery acid.
Billy goes to the community centre every week for boxing training, because that's what dad wants, but he's useless at it, doesn't see the point. Girls are having ballet lessons at the other end of the hall. He drifts down there.
The teacher (Julie Walters) encourages him, but being from County Durham does so with a fag in her face and no fuss.
He has to lie about it, keep it secret, because ballet's for poofs. All the prejudices about art and music and dance thrive in this place. It's alright for girls, but boys have to be tough. Billy's best friend isn't. He likes to dress in his mum's clothes and wear make-up. But that's another story.
Gary Lewis, as dad, plays his Glaswegian hardman role, where emotions are repressed to the point where tears crash against the walls of self-loathing. Walters insinuates everything with a look. She controls her sense of humour and gives a beautifully contained performance of a woman consumed by loneliness.
Jamie Bell, as Billy, does everything right. He is not naturally a graceful mover, which adds poignancy to his early attempts at dance, and expresses the confusion inside Billy with genuine feeling.
Beneath the veneer of a British tradition, which has people from the south making films about the north, Billy Elliot rings false, as if Daldry is using all the cliches to prove a point about artistic freedom. Compare this with Kes and you can see the difference.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001