out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
Starring: Julie Walters, Jamie Bell|
Director: Stephen Daldry
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genres: Comedy, Drama
|*Also starring: ||Jamie Draven, Gary Lewis, Jean Heywood, Stuart Wells, Nicola Blackwell||
Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied
Did you hear the one about the macho coal miner whose
young son wanted to be a ballet dancer? You did? Of
course. Stephen Daldry tells it again in his new movie "Billy
Elliot," but he relates the story in a fresh way, avoiding the
rah-rah American style that inhabits movies like "Bring It On"
and "Strictly Ballroom." "Billy Elliot," which was featured
at this year's Toronto Film Festival and received a warm
welcome at the recent showing at Cannes, comes on the
heels of a similar, more commercial offering, Dein Perry's
feature "Bootmen" about a tap-happy dancer in Australia.
The eponymous Billy, played by Jamie Bell in a startling
yet understated performance as a gifted but oddballish 11-
year-old, is one of two sons of a striking coal miner (Gary
Lewis), a widowed man living in a working-class Northern
English town near Newcastle. Discovering that his lad is
secretly taking ballet lessons and is in fact the only male in a
class of even younger girls led by chain-smoking Mrs.
Wilkinson (Julie Walters), his eyes glare fiercely and his
entire heads turns russet. While dad insists that Billy
spend his spare time taking boxing in the local gym and is
backed by his other son, Tony (Jamie Draven), Billy gets
strong support from the idiosyncratic teacher who stands up
to the older man and encourages Billy to do the same.
Would you be surprised if the most unlikely person
ultimately becomes Billy's chief defender? Of course not.
But as Roger Ebert always says, it's not the "what" of a story;
it's the "how." Stephen Daldry directs Lee Hall's screenplay
determined to show the eccentric and loveable characteristics
of the community, such as the boy's senile grandmother
(Jean Heywood) who states during two of her clearer
moments "I could have been a professional dancer" with the
melancholy determination of a Marlon Brando, and extracts a
particularly comic performance from Gary Lewis--whose
glistened eyes and inflamed features summon a blend of
Kevin Costner and Ben Gazzara.
While most of the movie's dispatch lies in a study of
contrasting and conflicting wills, "Bill Elliot" comes to
exhilarating life at one point when Billy and her teacher, alone
in the large gymnasium, let themselves go with a bopping, if
awkwardly-danced jazz duet. To demonstrate the beginning
of Billy's sexual coming of age, Daldry places Billy into
several scenes with the assertively precocious little ballerina,
Debbie (Nicola Blackwell), who, in the midst of a feather-
scattering pillow fight feel strange emotions that stops them
dead in their tracks in wonder. Daldry broadens the action by
alternating scenes of Billy's growing affinity for the art form
with panoramas of a bitter, year-long strike between the coal
miners--most of whom had probably never traveled to
London--kept in line by a contingent of local police in full riot
gear who protect a growing number of scabs crossing the
lines by bus. The film is effectively framed with a show-
stopping scene of Billy joyfully jumping up and down to slow-
motion camerawork. A memorable soundtrack adds luster to
this little gem of a movie.
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten
Buy movie posters!