ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WADE
“Billy Elliot.” Rated R. I give it a 41/2 on a scale of 5.
My daughter took a look at the video cassette of “Billy Elliot” and said, “Dad, did you know this movie is rated ‘R’?”
I was surprised, judging from the looks of the cover and the brief outline of the plot. It seemed like a kids’ kind of movie about a boy from a rough mining town in the United Kingdom (Ireland, I presume), who would rather join a ballet class than the local boxing club. Actually, he’s already tried boxing, and he’s terrible.
It just so happens that Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet girls are forced to practice in the gym for a few weeks. Billy (Jamie Bell) becomes intrigued with the more refined movements of the young ladies, and he joins them after a particularly bad boxing endeavor.
Does this sound like the plot for an “R”-rated film?
I can tell you it contains some violence and some innocent sexual references. But it also carries a clear message about the triumph of the human spirit.
Billy is a natural at ballet, according to Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). Though still rough around the edges, she recognizes his raw talent and convinces him-with some help from her daughter Debbie, played by Nicola Blackwell-to give up boxing for the ballet. She tells him he has a shot at being accepted by the national ballet school in London.
Of course, Billy cannot breathe a word of any of this to his father, played by Gary Lewis. Dad, a miner, is involved in a tense labor dispute with the coal company and is out on strike. Every day, he and Billy’s brother, Tony (Jamie Draven), yell obscenities at the scabs as they are escorted into the mine.
Adding to the tension is the fact that Billy’s mother has died, and his grandmother, who lives with the family, is rapidly losing her mental faculties. It is Billy’s job to look after her.
This is not a lighthearted tale of a happy family. The two hours of “Billy Elliot” will leave you exhausted from the emotional roller coaster, the constant stream of profanity-apparently part of everyday life in the culture of the miners and clearly the cause for the “R” rating- and the incessant strain of trying to follow the conversation through the heavy accents.
But the film is not without its rewards. Billy is a very likable character, and despite the dysfunctional nature of the Elliot family members, the viewer can’t help but root for them all.
The tone is not mean-spirited, and we get a close-up look at life in a society very different from our own. Yet, through Billy’s struggles to discover his identity, we can learn something about ourselves.
I found myself intrigued by this family, but not everyone will. This movie is hard work. I think it will pay off, however, and I recommend the film for older teenagers and adults who have the patience to see it through to its satisfying end.
Bob Wade is a local video enthusiast. The videos he reviews come courtesy of Radio Shack/Quick Flick, 110 N. Main, Hillsboro.