It’s been 20 years since Lee Hall’s award-winning film Billy Elliot pirouette onto our screens. The film follows a young working-class boy finding a passion for ballet, fighting against the strict, mould of masculinity expected of him by his father and brother, and their small-town mining community. Set in the backdrop of the 1984/5 Miners Strike, Billy Elliot perfectly balances a gritty, realistic depiction of the hardships of the strike and the consequences of challenging the status quo, with the hopeful celebration of individuality, expression and queerness; Billy’s sexuality is never strongly confronted, but his deviation from the traditional masculine activity of boxing in favour of ‘sissy’ ballet is certainly seen as queer – an idea paralleled through the story of his gay best friend Micheal. Billy’s dancing challenges traditional gender stereotypes held by his father and brother, and the wider community, forcing them to examine their own masculinity during a time of extreme hardship and turmoil, as their whole way of life is threatened by pit closures.
The story is given life by its fantastic cast. Jamie Bell is well-deserving of his BAFTA for the best leading role, as despite only being only 11 years old he brings an incredible depth to Billy – whoever said child acting was perfected by the Stranger Things Kids has clearly slept on this performance. Julie Walters is, as always, fabulous as the ballet teacher, commanding every scene she is in. Gary Lewis is also a stand out in this movie, with his powerful performance as Billy’s father Jackie’s journey to not only acceptance but staunch support for his son.
Five years on from the film, in 2005, it opened on the West End with music by Elton John. The movie translates beautifully to the stage, with Elton’s score beautifully embellishing the story – although the T. Rex heavy soundtrack of the film is a movie score to be reckoned with. I watched both the movie and the musical over lockdown, not for the first time, but it was the first time I had seen them with my dad. Having grown up a stone throw from where Billy Elliot is set, my Dad being the first of his family not to go down the pit and I, his queer daughter, viewing this film together it felt like a powerful melding of worlds, worlds that we are often not shown to overlap.
Lee Hall has said that the story of Billy Elliot is somewhat autobiographical, as whilst Billy’s passion was dancing, his was literature and drama. This theme of rebellion against the status quo through a personal passion is what makes Billy Elliot so accessible, as so many of us have our own ‘ballet,’ we just have to have the courage, and support, to pursue it.
Check out the trailer for Billy Elliot below: