Billy Elliot [2000]

Foursquare in the gritty-but-heartwarming tradition of Brassed Off and The Full Monty comes Billy Elliot, the first film from noted British theatrical director Stephen Daldry. The setting is County Durham in 1984, and things "up north" are even grimmer than usual: the miners' strike is in full rancorous swing, and 11-year-old Billy's dad and older brother, miners both, are on the picket lines. Billy's got problems of his own. His dad has scraped together the fees to send him to boxing lessons, but Billy has discovered a different aptitude: a genius for ballet dancing. Since admitting to such an activity is tantamount, in this fiercely macho culture, to holding up a sign reading "I Am Gay," Billy keeps it quiet. But his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters, wearily undaunted), thinks he should audition for ballet school in London. Family ructions are inevitable. Daldry's film sidesteps some of the politics, both sexual and otherwise, but scores with its laconic dialogue (credit to screenwriter Lee Hall) and a cracking performance from newcomer Jamie Bell as Billy. His powerhouse dance routines, more Gene Kelly than Nureyev, carry an irresistible sense of exhilaration and self-discovery. Among a flawless supporting cast, Stuart Wells stands out as Billy's sweet gay friend Michael. And if the miners' strike serves largely as background color, the brief episode when visored and truncheon-wielding cops rampage through neat little terraced houses captures one of the most spiteful episodes in recent British history. --Philip Kemp

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