Billy Elliot’s Brilliance into Ballet

For my next critique, I’ll be tackling the Stephen Daldry 2000 movie, “Billy Elliot”, which is about an 11 year old boy who has quite an unusual talent for his time. Set around the 1984 coal mining strike in rural England, it was one of British actor Jamie Bell’s first roles, and paved the way for a Broadway and West End musical, with music scripted by the legendary singer Elton John.

Jamie Bell stars as the titular Billy, a prepubescent youngster who lives in the mining town of Durham in the mid 1980’s. Billy lives with his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven), who both value their traditional, masculine backgrounds in the coal industry and his forgetful grandmother (Jean Heywood), with his mother having passed away a year earlier. With Jackie and Tony participating in a mining strike picket, the police have to be called in to restore some semblance of order to the community.

Billy keeps busy by taking boxing lessons in the local hall, but he proves to be less than stellar in the sport. Following a mediocre boxing lesson, he is cajoled into joining in on a ballet class taught by Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). There, he finds that ballet awakens an inexplicable need in him,  and so he begins to attend the class in secret, for some time at least. Eventually, an enraged Jackie finds out about Billy’s less than masculine extracurricular activity, and orders him to be pulled from the class. But can Billy deny his dancing dreams, or do greater pursuits beckon in his future instead?

The performances from all the actors are all superb. I simply can’t fault a single one of them for how authentic and natural they felt. Bell is excellent as the quietly determined Billy, the always fantastic Julie Walters is on top form in an Oscar nominated role as the encouraging dance coach, and Lewis and Draven are also decent in their roles as Billy’s initially distant father and brother, and Stuart Wells serves well as Michael, Billy’s best friend who is harbouring a secret of his own!

The story is propped with an array of memorable scenes, from the opening shot of Billy jumping on a trampoline in midair to the strains of T-Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer”, or Billy letting out some steam to the Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”. My own personal favourite scene comes about towards the end of the movie, where Billy is questioned about what dancing feels like. His response is simply heartfelt, and it inspired what is perhaps the musical’s most recognizable song, “Electricity”.

“Billy Elliot”, is possibly one of the best British movies that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. I used to watch it devoutly as a child, and Billy’s struggle to remain true to himself despite the adversity from his family resonated with me, as I’m sure it has for others. In fact, Elton John himself was inspired to write the music for the stage show as he related to Billy’s fraught relationship with his father, since it was similar to the one he had with his own.

“Billy Elliot” earns a grand total of five out of five stars. It offers a brilliant takeaway message of perseverance in regards to your dreams or ambitions, and to never give up, no matter how fruitless and impossible it may seem, as it just might pay off in the end. Plus, I’d recommend checking out the musical show if you loved the film, Elton John, or if you simply love musical theatre which has catchy songs and valuable messages, then it might just be up your alley!


Putting Dirty Dancing in its Corner…

As many of you may have noticed from my recent reviews, I have been watching a number of movies about dancing, the majority of them from the 80’s period. While I’ve enjoyed musing over the various formulas of other 80’s dance movies (Footloose, Flashdance, to name but a few), the dance flick I enjoyed the most was “Dirty Dancing”(1987), starring the late, great Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Its premise may seem to be run of the mill and twee, but I love it for its simplistic nature and the sheer chemistry between the lead actors (although they’re rumoured to have immensely disliked each other off the set).

The story concerns Frances “Baby” Houseman( Jennifer Grey), a sweet but somewhat sheltered high school graduate who’s vacationing in Kellerman’s resort in Catskills Mountains with her parents and her flirty, vapid sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) in the summer of 1963. While trying to avoid the attentions of Neil ( Lonny Price), the snobby grandson of the resort’s owner (Jack Weston), Baby discovers that the staff often partake in surreptitious late night dance parties. It’s there were she develops a crush on hunky, yet charming dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze).

Disaster strikes when Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), Johnny’s dancing partner, becomes pregnant, and decides to illegally terminate the pregnancy. Baby offers to step up and take Penny’s place in time for an important dance contest, and soon she and Johnny are getting closer in many ways. However, she finds herself torn between her budding romance with Johnny and her close relationship with her overprotective doctor father, Jake (Jerry Orbach). Will true love prevail? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out…

“Dirty Dancing” is a movie where the potentially tired and cliched story line is given added zest due to the number of dance sequences in order to give the format a new lease of life. There are moments within the movie which verge into corny territory (namely the “nobody puts Baby in the corner” scene towards the end), but for others, that’s just part of the movie’s charm. In fact, when I saw a musical production of “Dirty Dancing” a few years ago, the audience went absolutely bananas for that line!

Jennifer Grey delivers a brilliant performance as a young woman on the cusp of adulthood who grows up over the course over the story. I found it amazing how she could go from playing a sassy, rude high schooler in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to a well intentioned, naive maiden. Patrick Swayze additionally proves that he could tackle romance comedies on top of his more notable action roles.

All in all, I’d allow kids aged 13 and up to see this movie, as they may be ready for some of the movie’s more mature scenes, such as Penny’s subplot. “Dirty Dancing” earns 4 out of 5 stars, as it consistently manages to be entertaining without dragging. I had a fantastic time while watching, and I owe it all to the actors, and the songs, naturally! Happy viewing!