Billy Elliot Review

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A miner's son dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.


A film about a pre-teen, would-be ballet dancer - set against the gritty backdrop of the 1984 Miners' Strike - doesn't at first sound like an enticing prospect. So it's all credit to director Daldry that he has created the first genuinely exhilarating Brit flick of the new millennium, a no-holds-barred triumph which, minus the current staples of drugs, violence, gangsters and pop stars-turned-actors, shines out like a beacon among the recent sea of homegrown mediocrity.

The key to Billy Elliot's success is its deceptive simplicity; in telling this story of a boy who wants to swap his boxing gloves for ballet tights, Daldry has eschewed the regular dance movie clichés - debilitating illness, disability etc. - to create a triumph-over-adversity tale of a different kind. Here, the only obstacle Billy has to overcome is the opposition of his widowed father (Lewis) - a tragic figure who is having to cope not only with single parenthood, but the daily grind of the picket line in the ongoing miners' strike.

Yet, for all its grittiness, this is never a depressing film, instead one which treats its year's turbulent history as set dressing for the central story. There is a great deal of comedy here too, as our pint-sized hero shakes off his two left feet and starts to display his potential, ably backed by dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson - Walters in her best role for years. Along the way he gets into scrapes, discovers his burgeoning sexuality via his two best mates - the cross-dressing Michael (Wells) and precocious pre-teen Debbie (Nicola Blackwell) - and has the audience rooting for him at every turn and pirouette.

Where this really scores and tugs the emotions, though, is in the dance sequences themselves, set largely to a medley of '80s hits and comprising unorthodox moves guaranteed to blow away the stereotypes of ballet - with one particularly glorious set-piece guaranteed to have even the most stoic of viewer complaining of something in their eye. Bell is as accomplished a dancer as he is an actor, carrying the movie with astonishing aplomb and turning in the sort of star-making performance that leaves you regretting the fact he won't be playing Harry Potter any time soon.

Although changing the title from the original, more succinct, Dancer, and chucking in a Stephen Gateley song for good measure do it no favours, this still remains the kind of unlikely yet utterly essential viewing which should, by rights, provide the UK with its latest breakout hit.

Those who have lost faith in the British Film Industry, prepare to have it restored.