Toronto
1 min

Tough love

Billy Elliot puts the dancer in the dance

EN POINTE. Jamie Bell will dance into your heart, but Billy Elliot is no victory for nelly boys. Credit: Xtra files

There’s nothing like a little singing and dancing to make you feel good in a movie.



And Billy Elliot, the tale of a mop-headed miner’s son who wants to dance “the ballet,” is one giant feel good movie.



Cast in that triumph-of-the-underdog mold of Flashdance or Rocky, Billy Elliot varies little from the Hollywood norm. In the end, when his family surrounds him in a long, drawn out letter opening scene, you know that there is no way that he could possibly be refused by The Royal Ballet School. It would all be too crushing.



But this small film with a huge heart does vary from Hollwood in one respect, and here, it excels. Flashdance featured only fly by scenes of the heroine in her factory job: The forces that kept her down were only vague suggestions. Billy Elliot is deeply mired in the struggle that surrounded the coal pit closures under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.



The film’s beauty is in it’s frailty, portraying a little boy’s heart set against the brutality of riot police, scab labour and heartless politicians. The hopelessness of Billy’s dreams is portrayed with a rawness that would be avoided this side of the Atlantic. And we egg him on all the more because of it.



Although this is essentially a one player film with charming newcomer Jamie Bell as Billy, it’s the supporting cast that renders the background of realism. Veteran actor Julie Walters as Billy’s chain smoking, foul mouthed ballet coach is a charmer. And Gary Lewis as Billy’s harsh but heart-broken, widower dad provides the films greatest tear jerking moments.



One word of warning: Don’t go to Billy Elliot expecting a champion of the nelly boy saga. Although Billy has a gay best friend, the dialogue reminds us over and over again that this tousled-haired, rugby-shirted boy is no poofter just because he wants to dance.



You can see the heavy hand of more than one producer worrying that the public is not ready to accept an 11-year-old boy who’s sexuality and manhood isn’t shored up by repeated affirmation. It’s a shame: For Billy’s character, sexuality is not really an issue.



Makes you wonder: When will we start to allow 11-year-old boys to just be 11-year-old boys?


Billy Eliot is now playing in wide release.