Director: Stephen Daldry
It’s always hard when you start to think of your favourite films isn’t it? Sure, you can call on the obvious, your Nolan masterpieces, your Tarantino classics and those films starring Robert De Niro pulling the same grimace over and over again…but you always want to find that one that no-one would expect you to say. Maybe you just want to sound sophisticated or edgy so you’ll pick a French 1960 flick or another Lars Von Trier mindfuck; but for me, I went for a story about a little northern boy and his ballet shoes.
Billy Elliot staring Jamie Bell, Gary Lewis and Julie Walters and directed by Stephen Daldry is the ultimate coming of age tale, one of boundary breaking, society woes, British History, Boxing and of course Ballet.
The film takes place during the miners strikes of 1984 in Durham County, where daily clashes between angry picketers and police armed to the teeth with riot gear, dictate the lives of the surrounding urban neighbourhood. Amongst the most vivacious of the angry mining mob are Tony (Jamie Driven) and his single Dad (Gary Lewis), who is on his own solo mission to get his less than thuggish son Billy (Jamie Bell) to take up boxing classes.
During one of these boxing classes at the local gym, Billy notices a troop of girls being taught the graceful art of ballet dancing by the hard lined Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) who, after her daughter dares Billy to join in, offers to teach the interested youth for free after seeing his incredible potential, potential enough to see him fitting in at the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London.
Billy’s father is not best pleased with his sons less than manly pastime, and so decides to pull him from the class; sparking a fierce hatred between father and son, a hatred which drives the family into a spiral of violence, led by older son Tony…who ends up in trouble with the police for violence.
Due to Tony’s criminal activity, Billy is forced to miss the Ballet trials in London igniting a row between Billy’s father and Mrs. Wilkinson. Though at first he steadfastly refuses to consider his son’s desires of going into ballet, fearing his son would be seen as a ‘poof’, he comes to realise that this might be the one shot that Billy has in order to escape the danger and grinding tedium of a miner’s life, so he sets out to earn the money by any means necessary to send his son to London.
The end of this film always gets me close, if not all the way, to tears…as 14 years later, Billy’s father gets the chance to see his son in action. With an almighty leap and a crescendo of orchestral brilliance – Billy takes to the stage as the leading role of swan lake – leaving his father on the verge of the proudest and most profound tears you could ever hope to see in any dramatic piece.
The above synopsis is most certainly not comprehensive as there is so much to cram into such a short allotted word count (that and I’m tired, go watch the film.) but I think from this you can get a sense of why it is most definitely one of my favourite films of all time. Its the struggle, the gritty day to day problems of normal folk trying to do their best, the countless reams of difficulties and society norms that must be broken and bent just to do what makes you happy.
This film sums up an attitude of freedom and self belief, qualities that I hope are instilled in me today. It could even be a result of this film, who knows, but one thing I do know is that this film provokes such a powerful potent message of self importance, not selfish importance; but the importance of doing what makes you happy. You are your own person, whether you like boxing or ballet, football or rugby, pop or rock, berets or top hats, long coats or leather jackets, sun or rain, winter or summer, if it makes you happy; DO IT!
This film is top class, well acted, brilliantly written and directed; and has a fantastic moral message to boot. And for those reasons, and also perhaps the fact we get to see a young Mrs. Weasley smoking a fag, Billy Elliot is one of my all time favourite films and a must see for any fan of the genre or someone looking for a gritty British flick.