Who would want to see a movie about a miner's son in Northern England whose life is forever changed one day when he stumbles upon a ballet class on his way to boxing lessons? Well, the answer is simple: anyone looking to see one of the year's best films.
Billy Elliot is the kind of feel-good motion picture that only the British film industry seems capable of producing (think, 1997's Brassed Off). Although he must keep his growing interest in the world of ballet a secret from his widowed father (Gary Lewis) and overbearing older brother, Tony (Jamie Draven), 11-year-old Billy (Jamie Bell) discovers that dance is more than a means of self-expression, it becomes a passion.
He is encouraged by the exacting instructor Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) who recognizes the lad's potential and works with him with the goal of landing an audition at the Royal Ballet School in London. After his father and brother become aware of his secret and ban him from ballet class, Billy has to make an important decision -- to remain in his oppressive hometown or escape to London to pursue his dream.
Newcomer Jamie Bell, himself a dancer since the age of six, delivers a stirring performance as the title character. Bell skillfully uses his body to articulate Billy's inner longings through his awkward, unpolished movements and also handles the dramatic aspects of the role well. Julie Walters is terrific as the blasé dance teacher who recognizes Billy's gifts and offers to train him. Gary Lewis as Billy's dad takes what could easily have been a stock character and makes him almost heroic. When he makes a decision that goes against his principles but would guarantee a better life for his youngest child, it is dramatic peak in the film.
Award-winning stage director Stephen Daldry makes an auspicious feature film debut at the helm of Billy Elliot. He and screenwriter Lee Hall have managed to avoid the clichés that torpedoed the similarly-themed Bootmen and delivers a superlative comedy-drama. Daldry's ease with the camera, his ability to shape scenes and focus on the action and his success with the actors bode well for a long future behind the camera.
Some might quibble over the plot and themes because they seemingly have been done to death, but far from turning them into recycled pap, Daldry and company have made an enjoyable, exhilarating and just plain fun movie.