Billy Elliot

SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE


No nancy boy. Billy (Bell) won't let anyone think he's a "poof" just because he likes to dance...
dir Stephen Daldry scr Lee Hall
with Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven, Stuart Wells, Nicola Blackwell, Jean Heywood, Mike Elliot, Billy Fane, Matthew Thomas, Patrick Malahide, Adam Cooper
Universal-BBC 00/UK 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
More shining lights of the British stage makes a remarkable big screen debut: Billy Elliot is a superbly sure-handed film about a pre-teen boy trying to plot his way in life against the odds. Sounds like yet another slice of coming-of-age angst, and yet Daldry and Hall avoid cliches at every turn to create a marvellously winning film full of memorable characters.

It's 1984, and 11-year-old Billy (Bell) lives in northeast England, stricken by a long-running miners' strike that's destroying village life, setting friends and family against each other. His recently widowed dad and hot-head brother (Lewis and Draven), both striking miners struggling with their self-confidence, encourage Billy to follow the family tradition of boxing. But he's much more intrigued by the ballet lessons taught by Mrs Wilkinson (Walters). Soon, he abandons gloves for dancing shoes. But he doesn't dare let his dad and brother find out!

The excellent script gets well beneath the surface to examine the characters feelings, motivations and most importantly the way they all make decisions that fly in the face of logic ... yet are fundamentally right. And the three central performances lift the film beautifully. Lewis (Orphans) gives another tough, introspective turn as the single dad so blinded by family and job pressures that he can't see a glimmer of hope in an unexpected place. Walters is, of course, fantastic as a woman who spots Billy's talent then matter-of-factly refuses to give up on him even when it looks pretty hopeless. And Bell is an out-and-out winner, combining Billy's edgy temper with cheeky humour and an utter joy of dancing. He's a natural-born actor, reminiscent of Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, and he's a fantastic young dancer as well--combining power and grace, ferocity and elation. Meanwhile, Daldrey gives the film a distinctive look, focussing closely on the characters and the setting to give it an almost fairy tale feel. The period details are natural and never cloying, and the grim realities of the miners' strike are never played up. It's merely something the village has simply accepted as part of everyday life. A wonderful little film.

[15--themes, language] 7.Aug.00
UK release 29.Sep.00

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READER REVIEWS

"I went into a kind of shocked state the moment the film began with Billy dancing and leaping with unleashed energy. In no time I was crying too. The tears and the shock lasted all the way through as Billy's own fierce determination won through against every opponent. The slow-paced closeups, full of tension or humour, seemed only to make the action scenes even more dramatic. Even when the film finished I, like half the audience, didn't want to leave the cinema. Outside I rang my great friend and in a shaky voice told - nay, ordered - her to see it. My only regret was the great time gap between Billy's audition for the Royal Ballet and, years later, his first public performance." --Colin C, UK.

"It is probably the best film I have seen at the cinema all year! Jamie Bell is sooo cute and such a good actor/dancer. I'd give it 10 out of 10. A great British film." --Pam, UK.

"This film is, without question, one of the best films I have seen this year. The heart-wrenching storyline had me and many others in tears whilst the comedy of such characters as Grandma and Billy's friend gave the film another aspect which made it all the better. I was in stiches with Walters' excellent portrayal of the ballet teacher, and Bell deserves all the praise he can get. From the outset I was captivated, and the ending, which in my view was the most emotional part of the film, topped it off as one memorable piece of British filmmaking. WELL DONE!" --Pete S, Leeds.

"Less cliched and marginally less 'feel good' than films like Brassed Off or The Full Monty, this was still a beautifully formed film, with lots of energy and gritty realism (not to mention some good moments of comedy, too). Bell's energy was the most outstanding part of the film - especially when expressing his frustration through dance. The whole film had a raw, real edge to it, which made it strong and moving. It was different from what I expected - but nevertheless, still very, very good." --Jo C, West Sussex.

"I cannot remember seeing a better British-made film in my life." --Christian M, London.

"A fantastic movie! Hooray for you Brits showing those Yanks how to make a terrific movie that appeals to everyone from myself, a 50-year-old woman (who has seen it four times and counting), to my 12- and 15-year-old sons and my 19-year-old daughter and her 19-year-old boyfriend! We laughed, we cried, we felt joy - and if that isn't a rarity these days at the cinema I don't know what is. As some fellow attendees said the last time I saw it (roughly once a week so far), 'That was SOME movie!' Please, Daldrey, Walters and last, but not least, Bell - please, we want some more and thank you!" --NStory, net.

"When I saw the packet, I thought it was going to be a comedy--Jamie Bell leaping with a big smile on his face. WHAT A WONDERFUL SURPRISE! Usually I find British movies either very good or very bad. Billy Elliot is the best English film I have ever seen. It simply reaches out and smashes you right between the eyes--most pleasantly. It is the first movie--of any nation--in which all the actors can act, that is to say that while viewing the film the viewer has the feeling of reality, not watching so and so playing a role. Jamie Bell was great, and Stuart Wells is a sleeper just waiting to bust out." --Gil, USA.

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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