Main cast: Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Julie Walters (Mrs Wilkinson), Gary Lewis (Dad), Jamie Draven (Tony Elliot), Jean Heywood (Grandma), Stuart Wells (Michael), and Nicola Blackwell (Debbie Wilkinson)
Director: Stephen Daldry
Billy Elliot is set against the 1984 miners strike in England. It tells the story of 11-year old Billy – not William please – Elliot and his discovery of the power of dance as a coming of age catalyst. I forgive these folks who made Billy Elliot for the overrated and awful Four Weddings And A Funeral, because Billy Elliot is beautiful, just so beautiful a movie.
Sure, it’s manipulative, and cynics may wail at the glossing over of the miners strike in this story. Hey, if people want to know about the strike, they can go rent a documentary. A sensitive, exquisite story of a boy’s growing-up, this one moves me to tears.
Billy lives in County Durham with his father, his elder brother Tony, and his grandmother who is showing symptoms of Alzheimer. Stuck in a low-class suburban hell with little to cultivate his imagination, he lives a life of doddering discontent until one day he sort of joins Mrs Wilkinson’s ballet class. Billy learns that he has the knack for it, and more than that, dancing helps him forget his blues.
But ballet? His very traditional father and brother balk. Oh dear. They have enough trouble with the strike and trying to make ends meet in the first place. Billy, however, has discovered that it is as if some hitherto unknown dam has broken in him. He can’t stop dancing.
Yes, yes, the story is predictable. Of course Billy will be a super danseur in Swan Lake, and everyone lives happily ever after at the end. But oh, the cast, the cast! Jamie Bell as Billy Elliot is unbelievably amazing. He is the perfect Billy – his scowl conveys his pent-up anger at his life more perfectly than a million over-exaggerated tears, and when he dances, I can’t keep my eyes off him or tears from falling down my eyes. There is this one scene when he is so angry that he storms out of the house and just keep dancing and dancing and dancing… it’s beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.
Gary Lewis, one of my favorite British actors, portray his role with dignity. Da is a simple, unimaginative man who has no idea how to deal with his suddenly bewildering son, but he and Tony eventually rally behind Billy in a gesture that is both realistic as well as heartwarming. The Elliots are out of their league when it comes to ballet, but how they try to let Billy dance on the stage – that is one beautiful family story. Granny gives some comic relief too.
And Mrs Wilkinson is also a wonderfully done character, a woman who is fed up and bitter from her failing marriage and monotonous life. In Billy, she learns to love her teaching all over again, and her bitter, sometimes brittle wit hides a lonely woman inside. In effect, she becomes a reluctant surrogate mother to Billy who lost his mother when he was much younger. Her scenes with Billy are both hilarious and poignant.
Really, Billy is a funny and likeable lad. He is wonderfully oblivious to everything – “I dunno” is his favorite phrase. But his gentle friendship with his gay friend Michael, the latter having a crush on Billy, is sensitively done. In fact, the movie treats its young leads with respect, never mocking them, only letting them be the strong, sometimes angry, sometimes resigned human beings they are.
I hate the ending though. It’s a happy one, but it doesn’t tell me what happens to Mrs Wilkinson. Is she happy? Has she found her happy ending? What about Grandma? While it is wonderful to know that Tony and Da are doing well, Michael has escaped County Durham to grow up as an open and happy gay man, and Billy has achieved his dream, but I want to know more. I want to be part of their lives much longer.
See? That movie has reeled me in completely. I cried, I felt as if everyone in this movie are old, good friends, and I didn’t know whether to laugh at the happy ending or to cry because I have to say goodbye to Billy and everyone. I am buying the DVD and I will savor this movie again when I need something to lift me up from the blues.