By: Alejandro Sangines


Billy Elliot, written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry, is a modern day version of the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” In this film, growing up in a small town in northeast England, the ugly duckling is an eleven-year old son of a poor coal miner. It is a time of struggle and violence because of a bitter labor strike. Billy lives in a tiny apartment with his father and grandmother, and he shares a room with his older brother. Early in the movie, Billy (Jamie Bell) is seen taking a pounding in a boxing class. When he stands up still dazed, he notices Mrs. Wilkinson’s (Julie Walters) ballet class, which is being held in the same place. Billy is invited to join the class, and Mrs. Wilkinson discovers that he has an incredible gift of movement and dance. Billy’s father (Gary Lewis) confronts him about the ballet class because he feels that ballet is only for girls “poofers” (gays), so he forbids him from ever going again. Billy continues to train in secret while the film develops an interesting comparison between him and his best friend Michael (Stuart Wells), who is also struggling with his identity. When Billy’s father catches him dancing with Michael dressed in a tutu, we, the audience, believe that it is all over. However, Billy finds the courage to dance for his father to show him the tremendous gift that Mrs. Wilkinson had recognized. Both the family and the community rally around the boy to raise enough money for an audition at the Royal Ballet School. The film ends years later in a London theater, where Billy Elliot, now famous and no longer the Ugly Duckling, leaps onto the stage. He is transformed into a beautiful swan performing for his father, brother and Michael, who is escorted by his gay lover. The transition is now completed for them all.


Billy Elliot draws a parallelism to the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” and the writing elements used throughout the movie tell the story. For example, Billy Elliot uses the color yellow as a predominant motif; the interior of Billy’s house is yellow, Billy’s shirt is yellow at various times throughout the film, and there is a scene in the cemetery where Billy

and his father are framed by a yellow wheat field. The color yellow is seen often in this motion picture because it is similar to the color of a baby duck. Additionally, swans are utilized as motifs in the movie. Filled with swans, we see the wallpaper in Debbie’s room. In the same sequence, Billy is covered with feathers as a result of a pillow fight with Debbie. Also, while Mrs. Wilkinson and Billy are sitting in her car on the ferry, they are listening to the score of Swan Lake. As a result, the music of Swan Lake reinforces the motif. In addition, personal letters, such as the one Billy’s mother wrote to him before she died, and the one Mrs. Wilkinson wrote to the Royal Ballet School on his behalf, are used to symbolize maternal figures; the character of Mrs. Wilkinson is as a surrogate mother figure.


Billy Elliot is also a brilliantly photographed film. For example, Cinematographer Brian Tufano captures Billy’s feet while jumping on the bed as a prelude to Billy discovering his talent as a dancer. Later in the film, we see a close-up of his shoes while Billy runs up the hill, and in the final scene we see Billy’s bare feet as he lands on the stage.


The cinematographer captures Billy and Debbie walking down the street while she is dragging a stick against the wall. The stick becomes a wand or pointer to direct the viewer’s attention from the children to the background. The scene begins with posters of human figures representing union strikers and flows into the shields of the riot police. During this sequence, Debbie is explaining to Billy that ballet is not just for “poofers” but also for everybody. Here the posters represent Billy’s drive to dance while the riot police represent Billy’s father as an authoritarian figure, who is saying no. The relationship between Billy and Michael is also told through clever cinematography. We see Billy and Michael filmed face-to-face four times: the lipstick scene, when Michael put Billy’s hand under his shirt, the tutu scene, and the good-bye scene. These depictions are traditionally associated with female-to-female or male-to-female interaction. Furthermore, Tuffano is portraying the transition of Michael into his eventual sexual identity and Billy’s acceptance of it.



Music is another vital element in the movie. At the beginning of the film, we hear a song providing us with the spirit of the movie. The title of the movie is a Douglac Corbin song, “ A Child Is Born,” and the lyrics are used to present our main character. “I was dancing when I was twelve/ I was dancing out of the womb.” Another song, “ London Calling,” parallels the story, but the irony is that Billy cannot attend this first calling to an audition in London because his brother Tony is arrested during a riot. Background music is used to add emotion and rhythm in the scene at the public library. At this point, Billy has decided to take ballet classes, and the song “Get It On/ Bang a Gong/Get It On/ Take Me” presents Billy’s emotional attitude toward ballet. Billy visits the library to check out a book about ballet, but he can’t take the book because it is only available for junior tickets. The ending lyrics “Take Me” are heard as Billy is forced to “take” the book by hiding it in his pants because the librarian refused to let him check it out.



The film adeptly uses movement to tell the story and shows Billy’s emotions. When Billy runs down the hill things are going great; in contrast, when he is in trouble or when things are going wrong, he is seen running up the hill. Again, the film sets the stage with an opening scene where Billy is seen jumping on his bed suggesting aspiration. Then, in the closing scene, we see Billy at twenty-five, jumping on a stage performing as a beautiful swan showing confidence, power, and authority. Later in the movie, Billy is seen dancing, kicking and tapping in combat boots, showing anger and defiance.


Despite the drama, intensity and realism of this film, the story Billy Elliot makes us feel good. Personally, the film convinced me to return to the dance school and continue my training. Other people may be reminded of how family struggles and conflicts can be resolved through acceptance and understanding. The constant themes that resonate through the movie are transformation, acceptance, and being who you are. Perhaps there is a Billy Elliot inside of each of us.