Sometimes, movie greatness comes where and when you least expect it. Such is the case with the absolutely winning and uplifting drama Billy Elliot, a small British film that is one of the best films of the year so far. Full of humour, heartbreak and a non-stop stream of emotional triumphs, Elliot is a film that scores a direct hit to the heart.
The story is set in a small British coastal town during the 1984 Miners' Strike. Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is an eleven-year old boy who decides that he would rather be a ballet dancer rather than a boxer. With the help of a local dance teacher, the stern but caring Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters), Billy just may get his chance to realize his dream. The only real opposition that stands in his way is his widowed father (Gary Lewis), who not only is dead set against his son's dancing, but also has to cope with managing a family on his own while being out on the picket line every single day.
Despite the bleakness of the story (other subplots include Billy's brother, who always seems to be in trouble one way or the other, and his not-all-there grandmother, whom Billy is forced to take care of), Billy Elliot is quite an uplifting, emotionally triumphant film that will have you cheering, if not on the outside then definitely on the inside. Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Lee Hall manage to wipe away the patronizing clichés that a Hollywood production would lavish upon the film and come up with a movie that never stops hitting the right emotional pitch.
Sure we may know how most of it is going to end up, but with writing this solid and directing to match it beat for beat, you could care less if you know every minute detail beforehand. Most importantly though, Daldry shows how much joy and liberation dancing can bring not only Billy, but perhaps to ourselves as well (if the scene in which Billy shows his father how much dancing means to him doesn't move you, then nothing will). He also remembers that even in the bleakest of times, there is always room for some humor and there are some real hearty laughs to be found here.
The cast should also be commended for their contribution to the movie's success. Newcomer Jamie Bell is nothing short of extraordinary as Billy, a young boy who puts up with quite a bit for a kid, but manages to persevere at times where most grownups would have thrown in the towel. I am not sure if Bell has acted before, but he does make a strong impression on the viewer here. He shows us Billy's determination, passion and emotional stamina with what seems like the greatest of ease. This is one young actor worth taking notice of. Julie Walters, Gary Lewis and Jamie Draven are also superb in their roles. Each actor fills their role with great passion, energy and emotion, giving us a collection of truly memorable characters.
Billy Elliot has a lot in common with another winner from this year, Almost Famous - they are both about young men reaching for the dreams in life and not allowing anyone or anything to dissuade them in the process. They both feature great ensemble acting, terrific writing and rock solid direction. They both have excellent selections of music and both of them leave you with a wonderfully uplifting feeling inside. Oh, and they are both among the very best films of the year.