Watching “Billy Elliot” again

Back in August 2006 I posted:

Then another coachee, doing Standard English, has as one of his texts (yes, I know) Billy Elliot. Again the laptop and the local video library worked wonders for us. Great movie. and a rich enough text too at many levels. A shame I have this embarrassing tendency to cry in the last few scenes, a phenomenon I described to my coachee rather than enact in front of him.

So ten years on I blubbed (privately) in the last few scenes all over again.

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Interesting viewpoint about that scene:

The worst part of the film, Billy Elliot, is the ending. I know that the ending has people sobbing in their seats (including Elton John), but it is so sweet and corny that it destroys the real-life aspect of the film. In the film, everybody is happy. Billy is a super-star. Michael is open and proud of his new boyfriend. Tony is thrilled to see his little brother perform. And Dad is overcome with joy and pride. Only Fairytales for children under seven should end with “And they all lived happily ever after.”

The story of Billy Elliot and the miners is depressing, and the audience needs a lift at the end. The film uses the silly happy ending to send the audience home happy. But it ruins the gritty reality of the story. The musical finishes the show with only hope for Billy’s future, and no real hope for anyone else. It is much more realistic for older children and adults. Then the musical cheers up the emotionally drained audience with the “Company Celebration” (Finale). Hall and Daldry corrected a major flaw with this change.

I haven’t seen the musical. Did you know the first performance was in Sydney?

The musical opened at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on 13 November 2007, directed by Daldry in association with Julian Webber, and choreographed by Darling. Rhys Kosakowski, Lochlan Denholm, Rarmian Newton, and Nick Twiney alternated in the title role. The production earned good notices, and in January 2008 it won Best Musical at the 2008 Sydney Theatre Awards…

People rave about the various productions of the musical: for example

This is not a time to beat about the bush. Billy Elliot strikes me as the greatest British musical I have ever seen, and I have not forgotten Lionel Bart’s Oliver! or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. There is a rawness, a warm humour and a sheer humanity here that are worlds removed from the soulless slickness of most musicals.

Yes, there are rough edges that would give Cameron Mackintosh a fit of the vapours, yes, there are occasional scenes that are not as powerfully played as those in the film. But there is so much more that is big and bold, imaginative and great-hearted….

I am content with the movie which I find quite perfect in itself.

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That of course is Jamie Bell as Billy. See Jamie Bell interview: This boy’s life, done ten years on from Billy Elliot.

…He’s told this story before, and he’ll tell it again. But it’s a fitting story for Bell. It has a fairy-tale aspect, and Bell’s career has always had a scripted quality to it – a working-class boy from the northeast of England is transported by the movies all the way from his local Odeon to the high tables of Hollywood. And the way it has been written, art and life have done a playful dance throughout, each informing and reflecting the other in uncanny and profound ways.

What could be more fairy tale than Billy Elliot – a fatherless ballet-dancing boy from Billingham plays a motherless ballet-dancing boy from somewhere just like Billingham and wins a Bafta into the bargain? Director Stephen Daldry selected him from 2,000 boys to play the title role, and it changed his life forever. He was 14, just entering puberty. Some child stars might prefer to consign their earliest roles to history as they grow up, but not Bell – he doesn’t mind talking about Billy Elliot. He recognises how special it was…

Of course it was seeing Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull in TURN: Washington’s Spies (2014) that prompted watching Billy Elliot again. (I have now finished the ten episodes on my Library DVDs by the way.)

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See ‘Turn’ Just Might Be the Breakout Role for Adult Jamie Bell.

…It’s probably not too hyperbolic to say that Billy Elliot is, and probably will be, the defining role of Bell’s career. As recently as September, he was talking about the part in an interview with The Independent. Back then, the story went like this: Bell—who, like Billy, loved ballet but hid it from his friends—won the role out of a field of 2,000 young men. Bell’s performance as Billy was ferociously intense, especially in the dance scenes (just watch below), but he was also incredibly naturalistic, something that Bell now discusses. “That wasn’t really acting to me. That was my life. I’d put ballet shoes down my pants to hide them from my friends,” he told The Guardian in 2011.

Of course, many actors who got their start as children have trouble re-establishing themselves as adults, but there’s also something curious about the fact that Bell has worked as often as he has in the years since Billy and yet hasn’t landed on a role that can serve as a shorthand for his adult career in the same way Billy has for his child-acting. Billy Elliot is a sentimental favorite for many, but it is not Harry Potter, and perhaps shouldn’t have become the overwhelming force in Bell’s life that it has…

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