Sunday, May 01, 2005

DVD Review - Billy Elliot

Kinda like Kes with tutus…’

If you haven’t heard the name Billy Elliot then you’ve been living under some kind of a cinematic stone since mid 2000. You know, plucky young Billy Elliot, the lad from a broken home, who, under the shadow of the ’84 coal miners strike, chose ballet over boxing. You must know it; it’s kinda like Kes with tutus.

Billy Elliot is as British a film as can be and it's probably, much as it pains me to say, well deserving of the truck-loads of awards that have been ladled on it and it's cast and crew. Okay, so ‘classic’ is probably too strong a word for it, but it’s a big favourite amongst fans and critics, encouraging swathes of spotty young boys to apply to the Royal Ballet School and to do whatever it is that blokes do at places like that (somehow I can't imagine them nickin' traffic cones, suppin' too many happy-hour Stella Snakebites in the Uni bar and painting green stocking and sussies on a statue of Lord Palmerston).

The background of the strike is handled pretty damn sympathetically (though larger-than-life) and holds together as beautifully as the cinematography, often appearing understatedly in the background with a nod of comedy, in delicate and purposeful shots alike.

Performances are complex but believable, from the likes of Julie Walters (in her Oscar nominated role as Billy’s dance teacher) and Gary Lewis as Billy’s father, struggling to keep his family together as an impoverished and single-minded striking miner, ‘mad-as-a-bag-of-cats' Grandma (the excellent Jean Heywood) and Jamie Draven (Billy’s bullying brother) will leave you in no doubt that the critical praise that's been lavished on Billy and his family is well and truely deserved.

To be honest, all the young performers are exemplarity. Young Jamie Bell (Billy) was a total unknown at the time of casting; but it was a brave choice that stood Stephen Daldry (Dir.) in good stead. The talented, young newcomer adds a level of hutspar to Billy that you can’t help admire. Real anguish, determination, some excellent dancing and spot on comic timing. One talented young man, who's very much deserving of his heaving sideboard of related awards.

There are some quality extras on this edition, all on the second disk. There is the ‘Real Billy Elliot Diaries’ and ‘From Screen to Stage’ featurette plus the fan pleasing (though not to my taste, I found it vomitous) ‘music’ section allows you to play each song from the film individually or all together (with or without a director’s commentary) and the ‘making of’ documentary (that’s really more ‘a story of the film’) with loads of interviews with the major cast and crew for those who like that kinda thing. I don't..

The film is still outstanding, even if the DVD could be pigeon holed as nowt more than a whopping great advert for the new stage production of the same name. For fans of the movie there is more to see with the new extras queing for review on the second disc. New buyers will no doubt be happy. As for upgrading (and I guess the true fans will do anyway) I'd say don't unless your sniffing after info on the new show. The casual viewer, with little interest in the stage production or deleted scenes, may well do better to stick with their old copy.

Either way, this is what low budget British cinema should be doing. Giving us quality talent in well penned and inspiring stories.

Movie: 4.5 out of 5
Extras: 3.5 out of 5