Billy Elliot

UK 2000

Reviewed by Claire Monk


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

County Durham, 1984. Eleven-year-old Billy endures the hardship of the year-long miners' strike, living with his striking father, brother Tony and grandma. During a boxing lesson, Billy becomes fascinated with a ballet class being conducted in the same hall. Dared to join the session by the teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, he shows talent and secretly drops boxing for her class. When his father finds out, he bans Billy from further lessons. Convinced of Billy's potential, Mrs Wilkinson trains him for free, preparing him for a regional audition for the Royal Ballet School. Tony is beaten up by the police and arrested, causing Billy to miss the audition. Mrs Wilkinson urges Billy's dad to support him, but a row ensues.

At Christmas, Billy breaks into the village hall with his friend Michael and dances. His father sees him and recognises his son's talents. Now determined Billy should audition for the ballet school, his dad plans to return to work to pay for the trip to the audition, but is dissuaded from doing so by his fellow strikers, who help him raise the fare. Following an audition, Billy is offered a place at the school. Later, Dad and Tony travel to London to see Billy in Swan Lake.


Hailed as the next likely feelgood British hit, Billy Elliot, like Brassed Off and The Full Monty before it, revisits the formerly industrial north of England - here, a colliery town during the miners' strike of the mid 80s. The feature debut of theatre director Stephen Daldry, it also replicates the earlier two films' curious, but very Blairite, narratives where post-industrial despair and masculine crisis are resolved through an engagement with the entertainment or cultural industries. (Here, Billy's dreams of becoming a ballet dancer create tensions between the 11-year-old and his striking dad.) But Billy Elliot reconfigures these ingredients rather than simply reheating them. While it lacks the dreamlike ambiguity of Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher, its quirky focus on the transitional zone between childhood and adulthood recalls that film as much as its more commercial precursors.

Daldry and screenwriter Lee Hall's film also feels a lot truer to authentic experience than The Full Monty or Brassed Off, perhaps because it's less fraudulently upbeat. Major credit must go to Jamie Bell as Billy: gangly and sandy-haired, he's a knockout dancer who also perfectly conveys an adult-child mix of mouthy defiance and sensitive introspection. Billy's circumstances are signalled with quiet economy. When his dad smashes his late mother's piano with an axe, we assume this is yet another act of aggression. But then we see the piano hammers burning as firewood. The gulf of class and culture which Billy will have to cross if he is accepted at the Royal Ballet School is never discussed; yet we only have to see Billy and his father cowed by the school's neo-classical interior to feel (wrongly) that Billy will never join this world.

Where Brassed Off and The Full Monty's trips to declining industrial heartlands proved to be excuses for emotive male bonding, Billy Elliot's boy-doing-ballet premise leads to a more equivocal relationship to dominant masculinity. At times, the film seems embarrassed by the burden of sexual/gender politics attached to its theme. The script, and Billy's robust dancing (which owes more to Michael Flatley than Frederick Ashton) work overtime to assure us that it's "not just poofs" who do ballet. Unfortunately for Billy, the example he cites to his dad here is Wayne Sleep, a dancer as camp as they come. But the film's notion of acceptable male identities is more polymorphous than this joke suggests. When unveiled as a cross-dresser, Billy's best friend Michael claims to have picked up the habit from his dad. Later, it becomes clear Michael is attracted to Billy. Billy doesn't reciprocate, but this doesn't provoke a crisis in their friendship, either. Billy's own sexuality remains undefined: he may not fancy Michael, but he is equally uninterested in his teacher Mrs Wilkinson's daughter Debbie.

Billy Elliot's story could plausibly belong to the present, raising the question of why it's set in 1984. Given the emotions surrounding the miners' strike, the film is politically circumspect to an extent which seems evasive. In narrative terms, the striking miners (represented by Billy's aggressive father and brother Tony) function as little more than a sign of the masculine class culture which initially thwarts Billy's ambitions. But Billy Elliot is equally mistrustful of those who opposed the strike, and its avoidance of politics only serves to underline the difficulty of neatly tying up the conflicts underlying the dispute. The 15-year ellipsis before the film's rapturous ending leaves much unanswered. We see Billy leave for ballet school but never learn how happily he fitted in, or at what cost. We only know that he can dance.


Stephen Daldry
Greg Brenman
Jon Finn
Lee Hall
Director of Photography
Brian Tufano
John Wilson
Production Designer
Maria Djurkovic
Stephen Warbeck
©Tiger Aspect Pictures Ltd.
Production Companies
Working Title Films/ BBC Films in association with the Arts Council of England present a Tiger Aspect Pictures production in association with WT2
Developed by BBC Films
Supported by the National Lottery through The Arts Council of England
Executive Producers
Natascha Wharton
Charles Brand
Tessa Ross
David M. Thompson
Line Producer
Tori Parry
Executive in Charge of Production
Angela Morrison
Production Executive
Grainne Marmion
Production Co-ordinator
Francesca Dowd
WT2 Company Co-ordinator
Amanda Boyle
Durham Unit Manager
Nick Waldron
Location Managers
Christine Llewellyn-Reeve
Joseph Jayawardena
Emma Zee
Steeple Post Production Services Ltd
Assistant Directors
Martin Harrison
Finn McGrath
Mike Hanley
2nd Unit:
Alison Banks
Alexander Bignell
Aurelia Thomas
Script Supervisor
Zoë Morgan
Jina Jay
Shaheen Baig
Pippa Hall
Chloe Emmerson
Script Editor
Roanna Benn
Additional Photography
Robert Shipsey
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Robert Fabbri
Visual Effects
Double Negative
Special Effects
Stuart Murdoch
Daniel Wright
Art Director
Adam O'Neill
Set Decorator
Tatiana Lund
Storyboard Artist
Stephen Forrest Smith
Costume Designer
Stewart Meacham
Costume Supervisor
Alison Goss
Ivana Primorac
Nikita Rae
Cine Image
Dave Hartley
Cello Solo:
Anthony Pleeth
John Parricelli
Andy Pask
Ian Thomas
Nick Ingman
Orchestra Leader
Rolf Wilson
Music Supervisor
Nick Angel
Music Recordist/Mixer
Chris Dibble
"Top Hat White Tie and Tails" - Fred Astaire; "A Child Is Born" - Douglas Corbin; "Cosmic Dancer", "I Love to Boogie", "Children of the Revolution", "Get It On", "Ride a White Swan" -
T-Rex; "London Calling" - The Clash; "I Believe" -Stephen Gately;
"Town Called Malice"
- The Jam; "Burning Up"
- Eagle-Eye Cherry
Peter Darling
Lynne Page
Production Sound Mixer
Mark Holding
Re-recording Mixer
Mike Prestwood Smith
Supervising Sound Editor
Zane Hayward
Dialogue Editor
Stewart Henderson
Darren McQuade
Ted Swanscott
Stewart Henderson
Hugh Johnson
Ted Swanscott
Anthony Faust
Stunt Co-ordinator
Lee Sheward
Timber Tops
Film Extract
Top Hat (1935)
Julie Walters
Mrs Wilkinson
Gary Lewis
Jamie Draven
Jean Heywood
Jamie Bell
Adam Cooper
Billy aged 25
Stuart Wells
Mike Elliot
George Watson
Billy Fane
Mr Braithwaite
Nicola Blackwell
Carol McGuigan
Joe Renton
Gary Poulson
Colin MacLachlan
Mr Wilkinson
Janine Birkett
Billy's mum
Trevor Fox
PC Jeff Peverly
Charlie Hardwick
Sheila Briggs
Denny Ferguson
Dennis Lingard
NCB official
Matthew Thomas
Stephen Mangan
ballet doctor
Paul Ridley
tutor in medical
Patrick Malahide
Barbara Leigh-Hunt
Imogen Claire
Diana Kent
Neil North
Lee Williams
Petra Siniawski
Merelina Kendall
Zoe Bell
Tracey Wilkinson
geography teacher
Merryn Owen
Michael aged 25
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
9,914 feet
110 minutes 9 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
various festival screenings as
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011