Billy Elliot

Article excerpt

Billy Elliot * Written by Lee Hall * Directed by Stephen Daldry * Starring Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Bell, Jamie Draven * Universal Focus

With a maximum of heart and a minimum of schmaltz, British import Billy Elliot tells how one boy finds himself through ballet

There is a quiet little girl in blue who idles on the lane next door to Billy Elliot, hugging tight to a brick wall as she watches her northeast England community pass by. Billy barely notices her. But you sense that she knows everything about this 11-year-old boy and that someday when he is big and famous, she will overcome her bashfulness and share lots of stories with a reporter from the Daily Mail.

The hardscrabble town of Durham, where Billy (Jamie Bell) lives with his recently widowed dad (Gary Lewis), his older brother, Tony (Jamie Draven), and his out-of-it grandmother (Jean Heywood), is a place to escape from, a sooty, tree-hostile universe of bad wallpaper, mobile libraries, and shuttered cinemas. His coal miner dad has never even seen the outskirts of Durham, which is especially depressing if your day is circumscribed by the grim routine of a miners' strike and your wife's gravestone.

Into the postcard-perfect purgatory of Billy Elliot drops Mrs. Wilkinson, a ravaged ballet teacher. As played with flinty ennui by Julie Walters, she's Glinda the Good Witch by way of Miss Hannigan. Lording over her petite charges with one arm akimbo and the other holding a cigarette aloft, looking like a very pissed-off teakettle, she barks instructions with a mechanical weariness that all but says, What's the point?

Billy is her answer, and she is his. When Billy stumbles out of boxing class and into her ballet class, Mrs. Wilkinson smells a budding protege. Billy drops the needle on T. Rex's "I Love to Boogie," and Mrs. Wilkinson launches him on a clandestine tutorial to prepare him to audition for the Royal Ballet School. …

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