Billy Elliot

| October 4, 2000

As of early October 2000, Billy Elliot is my favorite film of this year. I consider to be it one of the very best and have reserved a spot for it on my Oscar list as a nominee in the best picture category. (James Powers, former Hollywood Reporter film critic, lives!)
The setting is 1984 in a Northern England coal mining area during a bitter strike. The local gym has simultaneous ballet and boxing instruction at opposite ends of the structure and eleven year old coal miner’s son, Billy Elliot, discovers, by accident, that his interest and talent lie in dance rather than in boxing. He must keep his new interest and lessons a secret from his widowed father and domineering older brother, but this information comes out when his ballet teacher, the wonderful Julie Walters, arranges for Billy to audition for acceptance as a student at the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London.
This is director Stephen Daldry’s feature film debut. His previous experience was at the BBC and at the Royal Court Theatre. There is absolutely nothing “stagey” about this film. The writing is from first time screen writer, Lee Hall, and is based upon his personal experiences while growing up in Newcastle. Hall has also written for theatre, television and radio. Exceptional and varied cinematography is contributed by director of photography, Brian Tufano, whose earlier successes include Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Composer Stephen Warbeck, Oscar winner for his work on Shakespeare In Love, does equally outstanding work this time.
I have nothing but high praise for the other technical elements, including production design, costume design, editing, and especially Peter Darling’s choreography which reminded me of West Side Story at several points.
The entire cast is wonderful. As the ballet teacher, Oscar nominee for 1983’s Educating Rita, Julie Walters, proves why she is considered “a living national treasure” in England where she continues her successful career in film, theatre and television. She deserves a supporting actress Oscar nomination for this performance.
Now thirteen years old, Jamie Bell makes his professional debut as Billy Elliot. Like the character he plays here, this outstanding young actor hid his dancing talent from his classmates while building a reputation as a talent to watch outside his hometown of Billingham. I read that he was seriously considered for the lead part in the upcoming film of Harry Potter, but he got too old before the film could go into production. Jamie Draven as older brother Tony; Gary Lewis as Billy’s father; Jean Heywood as Billy’s grandmother; and Stuart Wells as Billy’s friend, Michael, are all vivid.
Audience reaction at film festivals, including Cannes and Toronto, has been terrific and early (October 2000) boxoffice returns in England have been comparable to the good business done by The Full Monty. The running time is a brisk 110 minutes and the MPAA rating is “R”. This rating seems harsh and must have been caused by the colorful, but entirely appropriate, language. Actually, because of the accents, the “f” word is barely recognizable, anyway!
Billy Elliot is a perfect example of what it is that makes me love movies. I urge you to see it!

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