Starring: Jamie Bell
Director: Stephen Daldry
Year of original release: 2000
Billy Elliot is a British film set during the historic coal miners' strike of 1984-85. It takes place in a mining town in Durham in the north of England. The story centres on Billy, an 11-year-old boy who wants to become a professional ballet dancer.
A major theme in the film is gender stereotyping. Billy needs to overcome sexist attitudes both at home and in the community. Ballet dancing, he's told, is for girls. The film also shows a community in trouble with people losing their jobs as coal mines are being shut down.
Billy Elliot became a box-office hit because of its strong social themes and a brilliant performance by its young star Jamie Bell. In 2005, the film was made into a popular, long-running stage musical in London and New York. Jamie Bell will soon reappear on screen in the title role of the movie Tintin, which is based on the famous comic book series.
Billy lives with his widowed father, grandmother and older brother in an industrial town where the future looks very bleak. The miners in the area are on strike because the government is closing down coal mines. Both Billy's father and brother are unemployed.
Billy finds comfort in dance. He secretly begins taking ballet lessons - against his father's wishes. He's showing great promise, but his family doesn't have the financial means to send Billy to the Royal Ballet School in London so he can become a professional dancer. His love of ballet also exposes him to lots of ridicule in a town where traditional sexist prejudices remain strong.
The Great Miners' Strike (Britain: 1984 - 85)
Britain's government in the mid-1980s, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, became locked in a bitter fight with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) over government plans to close down unprofitable coal mines. Whole communities in the northeast of England depended on coal mining for their livelihood. The union, which represented mine workers, was outspoken and powerful.
Years before, mass strikes led by the NUM paralysed the country and even brought a previous government down. Thatcher would not give in, however. The miners' strikes became a symbolic struggle of workers against the government. Thatcher persisted and won - but not before the strikes turned violent and 10 people died. The Miners' Strike of 1984-85 was a difficult and dark time in Britain's recent history.
Outside the gender box
Social norms, often unspoken, dictate different roles for men and women. But what happens when someone wants to break down such barriers? Billy Elliot raises just that question. Its young protagonist defies both scorn and disapproval so that he can become a professional dancer, which is widely seen as an 'unmanly' activity.
Expecting men and women to behave in certain 'accepted' ways is called gender stereotyping. It's the belief that males and females must behave differently, based on a narrow set of gender roles. Jobs like bus driver, engineer and construction worker have traditionally been seen as male occupations, while jobs like florist or nurse have been the domain of women.
Gender stereotyping is deeply ingrained in most societies and very difficult to overcome. 'Real men' don't cry, for instance, and proper 'ladies' don't lose their temper. Similarly, girls don't play football and men don't take up needlework as a hobby. Then again, tell that to the talented players on the many women's football teams worldwide.
Many people are still surprised to see women play football. Yet the sport has long been played by women in Britain, if not always professionally. The English Ladies' Football Association was formed in the early 1920s. By the 1960s and 70s, matches between women's teams were played all over Europe. The Uefa Women's Championship was launched in 1982 and the first Women's World Cup was held in China in 1991.
Last year saw another big boost to the popularity of women's football. The sport's governing body announced plans for a Fifa Women's World Cup. Football is now played by amateur and professional women's teams all over the world.
Many other sports, like tennis, swimming and athletics, place men and women on an equal footing. It's high time football did the same. You might want to rent a DVD of the delightful movie Bend It Like Beckham to see just how skilful young women can be on the football field.