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Message Of Despair
Billy Elliot,
General Release.

This film which has received not a few plaudits, tells the story of Billy Elliot, a 12 year old boy who discovers a talent for ballet by accident. He has now to struggle for acceptance especially against his father. All this takes place against the back drop of the miners Great strike of 1984-5 and the attendant hardship that it brings to his mining family. The strike does have a role in the story and is clearly not a side issue. The film develops a symbiosis between the struggle of the miners, described by Margaret Thatcher as "the enemies within" and the struggle by Billy against his family, who view him in a similar manner. The constraints placed on Billy by his social position are constantly emphasised. However by contrast to the miners, whose attempts to struggle against the constraints of the system are depicted as essentially doomed, Billy is presented with a way out.

The fortunes of the miners and Billy seem to develop in diametrically opposite directions. Billy’s finest moment his acceptance by the Royal Academy is announced by his father at the miners social club just as the return to work is declared.
The cause of the miners is not treated sympathetically. There is no real exploration of the issues involved, and their struggle is cast in a negative light in comparison to the actions of Billy. Who is held up a source of inspiration amid the chaos.
The miners are actually portrayed as little better than an ugly mob in contrast to Billy’s gracefulness. In one sequence scenes of miners attempting to stop scab labour are interlaced with those of Billy practicing ballet steps. It is clear how we are meant to judge them both. The collective expression of the class is defined as negative in opposition to the self-expression of Billy. Indeed the notion of collectivity is depicted as crushing the individual. Billy is under constant pressure to conform to expected norms by his father who in turn is subject to similar pressure on picket lines. At no time does the strike come across as a potentially liberating experience. Rather it appears as the source of all ills, and this is ultimately crowned by the despair and misery of the return to work. The dilemma of Billy’s father-whether to stick it out or become a scab-is not really explored at all. It simply happens and then is resolved in a way which is slightly unbelievable. The issue is reduced to little more than a family concern, as Billy’s elder brother intervenes to prevent the father scabbing. It would be wrong to assume that there is any implicitly pro- working class message in this film. While the privations of working class life are shown the blame is laid at the feet of those who experience it because of their own lack of vision. But the cultural horizons of the workers are limited by their existence under capitalism as a slave class, and the film offers no hope that these can be raised. The only solution for Billy is to abandon his class.

In a sense the message is one of despair. The only one who has any hopes is Billy. His father troops back down the pits, while Billy buses off to a bright future.
It is perhaps interesting that there are no working class women to be seen. While the presence of Billy’s dead mother is clearly felt throughout , the only other female character of note is distinctly middle class. Almost all of the male characters overtly display characteristics that are associated with traditional masculinity. Indeed the negative portrayal of the miners strike is fundamentally linked to masculinity. Billy’s homosexual friend is one of the few characters portrayed in a more positive light. But the audience is encouraged to laugh at his antics- a device intended to engender sympathy.
In this way the film maintains his isolation in the eyes of the audience. Ironically the working class father who holds so many prejudices is treated in a similar way. We are meant to be amused, watching someone who has never left County Durham blundering through the streets of London. The working class elements are portrayed as backward and prejudiced, which of course leaves ‘the enlightened bourgeoisie’ free to champion the causes of racial and sexual equality. This film actually emphasises the need to bring these issues under the hegemony of the working class. It demonstrates that the ideology of ‘political correctness’ is in fact a lynch pin of bourgeois hegemony; the working class is portrayed as being incapable of championing the oppressed, let alone leading the universal struggle against capitalism.

Overall Billy Elliot is a film well worth seeing-though it is best to do so with open eyes.
Darrell Goodliffe
Reprinted from Weekly Worker Nov. 23 rd 2000.

We have reprinted this review from Weekly Worker, although we have not yet seen the film ourselves. The wee excerpt we have seen seemed to suffer from a lack of authentic accents, and had that horrible ‘stage school north of somewhere’ voice which they wheel out to portray everyone from Lanc’s to Geordies. We would welcome other peoples views of the film and might even get to see it ourselves.