Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Stephen Daldry(director) and Lee Hall (screenwriter), Billy Elliot (2000)

Billy Elliot (2000), directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Lee Hall, is an example of British social realist cinema that primarily deals with a pubescent boy’s eventually successful struggle to assert his identity by pursing ballet dancing in defiance of prevailing codes of working-class masculinity that reject such choices as sissy or gay. 

In addition, the film looks sympathetically at gay rights through its treatment of Billy’s best friend, Michael, who is gay and who has an arguably tougher struggle than Billy to express his authentic self and find an accepted place in the world.  Importantly, the film promotes the tolerance and acceptance of gay people by their heterosexual friends through its treatment of Billy and Michael’s friendship.  The heterosexual Billy accepts Michael’s homosexuality and what he sees as Michael’s occasional eccentricities, and he even maintains their bond after Michael makes an unsuccessful pass at Billy to express his feelings for him. 

As social realist cinema expressing a pronounced Marxist and socialist perspective, Billy Elliot focusses on the trials and tribulations of the working class and poor in a coal mining town near Durham during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985.  The film deals sympathetically with the plight of organised labour in its desperate struggle to use industrial action to maintain long-standing mining communities in the face of the forced pit closures imposed on uneconomical mines. 

The film re-enacts the passion and violence at the picket lines and examines the pressure that the stress of the strike action placed on participating families.  It also looks at how the strike divided friends and communities over decisions to support the strike or to continue working as ‘scab’ labour.  While sympathising with the strikers, the filmmakers were not disrespectful to those workers who did not support the strike, seeing them as having had to make their own difficult decision according to challenging circumstances.  In addition, while the filmmakers appear to disapprove of the Conservative Thatcher Government’s removal of the subsidies that led to the closure of the uneconomical mines, they do not treat the police employed to enforce this policy as villains but as hapless agents of the ruling class who are simply doing an unpleasant job.

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s teachers seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Billy Elliot meaning, Billy Elliot themes, Billy Elliot analysis, Billy Elliot notes