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Film / Billy Elliot

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Billy Elliot is the story of an eleven-year-old boy who escapes the harshness of his existence by discovering his passion for ballet. Inspired by A. J. Cronin's novel The Stars Look Down and directed by Stephen Daldry, this 2000 film spawned a highly successful West End musical, a collaboration between the film's original screenwriter Lee Hall and Elton John. Billy Elliot is both a gritty historical drama and a heart-warming feelgood movie.

The movie is set during the UK Miners Strike of 1984. Surrounded by the harsh realities of his family's poverty, Billy's only escape is the love of music he inherited from his late mother. His father pushes Billy into manly pursuits, forcing him to take up boxing at the local gym. At the same gym is a Ballet class that attracts Billy. He secretly switches from boxing to ballet.

Described by some as "a Coming-Out Story without the gay", this film was a major example of the "Gender-Normative Parent" Plot, where young boys in a coming-of-age story learn an important lesson — Be Yourself... even if it does involve leotards.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Jackie Elliot to his children at some points. Zig-Zagged in that he clearly loves them and wants the best for them, but he is visibly out of his depth, and distressed by the Union troubles.
    • He wants his younger son Billy to do "manly" things, but when he learns Billy wants to be a dancer, he barely accepts it, leading to an heated argument. Billy calls him a bastard, causing Jackie to snap, after a few seconds of silence, and beat Billy.
    • He later punches Tony in the face after catching him heading to a shop to steal. The result: Tony has a broken nose.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Billy seems to be feeling an attraction to Debbie in the pillow fight scene, but he does not reciprocate her later interest in him. Billy also can't return Michael's love for him.
  • Always Camp: Averted. Despite his love of dance Billy is not gay or even camp. His best friend Michael on the other hand...
  • Ambiguously Gay: Then again, there are people who think the movie can be convincingly read both as a subtle tale of a Billy coming to terms with his sexuality. After all, he is clearly uncomfortable when Debbie tries to touch him, but he kisses Michael on the cheek before he leaves. The ending of the movie is perhaps deliberately left open to allow viewers to decide for themselves. (There's possibly a bit of Fridge Brilliance in the fact that the ballet we see grown-up Billy in at the end is Matthew Bourne's gay interpretation of Swan Lake.)
  • Angry Dance: To the Jam's 'A Town Called Malice'.
  • Be Yourself: Billy realizes his passion for dance quickly and refuses to be anything else to please his skeptical family members. Eventually even his father realizes that it's wrong to hold him back, and Billy "could be a genius." Given the fact that all the younger dancers and even the stagehands gawk at Billy with awe in the Distant Finale, he's probably right.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: At one point Michael kisses Billy on the cheek; this is Michael's coming out to Billy and declaring his love for him, a love which Billy cannot return. Right before Billy leaves to go to ballet school, he says goodbye to Michael and kisses him on the cheek. Then "See you, then", and he runs off, leaving Michael looking after him.
  • Big Brother Bully: Tony towards Billy at first.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The movie ends well for Billy who fulfils his dreams, but not so well for the miners, whose months-long strike was in vain and know that their way of life and former prosperity of their regions is doomed.
  • Black Sheep: Billy, being interested in a "girly" activity, stands out from his rough-over-the-edge, boxing-trained, mining family.
  • Boxing Lesson: The plot starts with one, but averts the trope by leading to lessons in a totally different discipline.
  • Camp Gay: Billy's best friend Michael has a feminine personality, is into crossdressing and harbours feelings for Billy romantically. While Billy doesn't see him the same way, he supports his best friend regardless.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs. Wilkinson. Roughly 80% of her dialogue consists in biting remarks and comebacks. Exaggerated in the Musical adaptation.
  • Distant Finale: In the final sequence, Billy's father and brother make the journey down to London (they are seen riding the then-new extension of the Jubilee Line, putting these scenes at least fifteen years after the rest of the film) to see Billy dance in a production of Swan Lake.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Downplayed, Jackie and Tony are merely out of their depths with Billy, not arranged by the mounting stress of the failing strike and financial hardships, But they pull it together.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Jackie is outraged at the prospect of his son becoming a professional ballet dancer, though this is more out of a fear that Billy will be perceived as effeminate by society. Jackie eventually understands his son's enthusiasm and knack for ballet and does everything in his power to see his dream come to fruition.
  • Gendered Insult: When talking about gay effeminate men, Billy refers to them as "poofs", even if not intended out of malice.
  • Jerkass Ball: Billy, believe it or not. His slap to the other boy was utterly unprovoked; the boy was merely comforting him for not having got into the dance school. Granted, the other boy was Innocently Insensitive by not recognising that a working class boy like Billy wouldn't get another chance. On the other hand, Billy never apologized for being a brat.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Both Billy's father and brother. They're hot-headed and a bit abrasive towards Billy, seemingly to use him as an outlet for venting their stress and passing blame for their family's union-related financial issues from themselves. When they learn that Billy wants to pursue ballet, they're a bit shocked at first, but eventually decide to help him pursue his passion. By the end of the story, the two express immense pride towards Billy.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Not in a mega superhero way, but still. Billy's paternal grandfather was apparently a really good boxer, which is why Billy's dad wants him to take it up. But Billy's maternal grandmother was also a fantastic ballet dancer when she was a young girl.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Both Billy's father and brother are blue-collar workers.
  • Mentor's New Hope: Sandra Wilkinson has a true passion for teaching dance and the art itself, but is clearly frustrated by a ruined home life and ho-hum students until Billy inspires her enough to work to get him into a dance academy.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Inverted. The story takes place in his childhood, but shows a brief moment of Billy's adult life.
  • Missing Mom: Billy Elliot suffers from dead mother syndrome.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Although Billy's sexuality is unclear and not explored at any point, his love of ballet makes his dad fear he is gay.
  • Oop North: It may as well be the name of Billy's hometown. But for some reason his father's Glaswegian. Which actually in a way makes it more believable.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Billy and Michael. Michael is gay, while Billy's sexuality is left more ambiguous, leaning more towards straight. Michael expresses that he loves Billy with a kiss on the cheek, but Billy cannot reciprocate. Regardless, this doesn't affect their friendship.
  • Protagonist Title: The main protagonist shares the same name as that of the film's title.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Billy and Michael, kind of. Billy is sensitive and into ballet, but the film takes pains to show him as quite conventionally masculine in some ways (punching that boy at the auditions, for example). Michael, on the other hand, is Camp Gay and a Wholesome Crossdresser.
  • So Proud of You: At the end of the film, Jackie is emotionally moved by a 25-year old Billy's performance, impressed with how far he's come.
  • Sports Dad: Billy's father, Jackie, trys to push him into sports by sending Billy to the gym to take up boxing even though he prefers ballet. However later in the film, Jackie realizes how talented Billy is at ballet and decides to support his dreams.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: A Bus Station variant with family rather than lovers.
  • Unconfessed Unemployment: Inverted. The Father can't tell his son he's going back to work as a scab to earn the money Billy needs to audition for ballet school.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Jackie refuses Sandra's offer to pay for Billy's Royal Ballet School audition, asserting that he doesn't need charity from others.
  • Vehicle Vanish: Debbie manages to pull one off.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Billy doesn't want his father to be disappointed in him, which is why he hides the fact he's doing Ballet.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Michael likes to wear his sister's dresses.

The musical adaptation provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: Grandma! From delusional sweet old lady to delusional sweet HILARIOUS old lady with an intense Melancholy Musical Number. Plus she runs down a hall with a knife. Sure, it was to open a letter, but still.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Well this one sure is.
  • Angry Dance: A chilling crescendo of Angst release, done pretty well.
  • Angry Mob Song: Played With in "Solidarity" by the cops who ironically thank the miners, but played straight with the miners voicing their frustrations about being looked down upon workers.
  • Counterpoint Duet: In "Solidarity", the ballet class scenes are intercut with scenes from the strike, with girls in tutus dancing in between cops swinging billy cubs and nightsticks. It works well. They use different musical melodies.
  • Crowd Song: A third of the songs are this, by virtue of involving the the miners on strike. The musical even starts and ends with one.
  • Dark Reprise: The lyrics of "Solidarity" are heard as a distant echo during "Angry Dance", but the confrontations with the police have long stopped to be funny. Brutal beatdowns are all but outright shown.
  • Darkest Hour: "Angry Dance" at the end of the first act. Billy's secret is revealed, he is humiliated and goes into a dancing frenzy, while the strike is degenerating with violence, after months of hopeless struggles and increasing financial hardship, with many miners wounded in police charges.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: In "Expressing Yourself", the song ends with a tapdancing sequence featuring giant moving dresses.
  • Dream Ballet: After Michael leaves in the Christmas scene, Billy dances with his future self, to the Pas de Deux from Swan Lake, before his older self fades away to reveal he is still in the miners' welfare.
  • Hail to the Thief: "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher".
  • Heroic BSoD: Billy emotionnally shatters after being humiliated by his brother into being forced to dance. He first hides in his room then starts dancing mechanically, exteriorizing all his rage and frustration, struggling in vain against the cops' Advancing Wall of Doom, and finally collapses with a Skyward Scream.
  • Melancholy Musical Number: "Grandma's Song" is a haunting lament about the life she was denied of by society's expectations and a very unhappy and abusive marriage, and how she wishes it had been different yet recognizes the futility in rewritting the past.
  • The Musical: Of course.
  • Parental Love Song: "He Could Be A Star", in which Billy's father is ready to go against his ideals and what he fought for during over a year, for the sake of his beloved son, much to his elder's initial anger.
    Jacky (singing): "We need to give the kid a future, we need to look him in the eye."
  • Pop-Star Composer: Elton John wrote the music for the musical numbers, with the movie's screenwriter Lee Hall providing lyrics.
  • Precision F-Strike: From Debbie to Billy: "You look like a right dickhead to me." Even the PBS broadcast version, which censors the F and S words on a regular basis, left this one in.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Which is odd because while it is a film about dance Billy Elliot is not a musical.
  • Show Stopper: "Electricity" full stop, with Billy pouring his soul out in a touching Song of Many Emotions, before erupting in a complex and absolutely stunning dance number, mixing classical ballet and modern break dance.
  • Skyward Scream: Billy lets out a soul-rending one at the end of "Angry Dance".
  • Song of Many Emotions: "Electricity", the peak of the musical.
    Billy (singing): "It's a bit like being angry. It's a bit like being scared. Confused and all mixed up and mad as hell. It's like when you've been crying. And you're empty and you're full. I don't know what it is, it's hard to tell."
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Did a rousing, march-y Crowd Song by striking Northern miners, called "Solidarity", really need the repeated line "We're proud to be working class!"
  • Working Class Anthem: "The Stars Look Down", "Solidarity", and "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher" definitely count as this, all involving the striking miners.