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Billy Elliot review

Billy Elliot
15certificate 15
Running time: 111 minutes
Starring: Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven, Stuart Wells, Jean Heywood
Rating 9 out of 10
Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is an shy 11-year-old living with his proud miner father (Gary Lewis) and older brother Tony (Jamie Draven) during the political and social unrest of the 1984 miner's strike. Times are hard - the men of the house spend their days on the picket lines clashing with the police, while Billy navigates the minefield of adolescence and takes care of his increasingly senile grandmother (Jean Heywood).

Determined to forge his son in his own image, Billy's father sends him for boxing lessons with pal George (Mike Elliot) at the local village hall. Unfortunately, Billy isn't interested in expressing himself with his fists, he's much more taken with the ballet lessons next door, run by jaded Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters).

When Billy's old man learns that his son has forsaken boxing gloves for ballet shoes, he is distraught: dancing is not a manly pursuit, certainly not for a miner's son. Fearful of what his friends might say, Billy's father bans him from taking classes and searches for a glimmer of hope in the bottom of his beer glass.

One night, during the long trek home from the pub, Billy's father happens to witness his boy performing a routine for schoolfriend Michael (Stuart Wells). Moved almost to tears by the boy's passion, Billy's father suddenly realises that he has let his preconceptions and macho pride cloud his judgement, and sets about raising the money to send his son to London, where the admissions panel of the Royal Ballet awaits.

Beautifully observed and surprisingly free of mawkish sentiment, Billy Elliot is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale that speaks straight from the heart, juxtaposing Billy's battle of wills with his prejudiced father, with the community's struggles against the larger forces of the outside world.

Newcomer Bell is mesmerising, completely unfazed in front of the cameras. He possesses a charming awkwardness in the initial scenes which immediately endear us to Billy, blooming into exuberance and joy whenever he dons his ballet shoes and loses himself in the rhythms and movements of the dance. His relationship with sour-faced Mrs Wilkinson is beautifully developed, initially fractious and gradually burgeoning into a touching surrogate mother-son dynamic.

Walters once again employs a canny mix of humour and emotion to get beneath her character's skin. Lewis and Draven are also solid as the working class men who expect Billy to follow them down the mines, and youngster Nicola Blackwell also makes an impression as Mrs Wilkinson's daughter Debbie who awakens frightening but not unpleasant feelings in Billy.

The film builds nicely in pace over the course of the two hours to a rapturous finale at the Royal Ballet auditions, topped off with a rousing coda that will have audiences fumbling for their tissues and cheering in the aisles.

Daldry's direction is flawless, energising the dance sequences (choreographed brilliantly by Peter Darling) and catching its breath during the sequences between Billy and his family. A triumph.

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