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Social Affairs: Oi! Dancing Boy!


Who remembers Billy Elliot? Its probably easier to ask who doesn't since the movie, made in 2000, both reminded us of the past yet also provided a look at the future. The past was graphically illustrated by the story being set amidst the violence of the miner's strike of 1984. The strike was a picture of life in the UK up to that point, a time when division across the UK was a stark reality. ​ On the one hand you had Billy and his family, housed in the typical narrow terraces usually lived in by his social class, on the other the more middle class area in which his dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters in fine form) lives, and at the other end of the extreme, the grand structure of the Royal Ballet School.

When Margaret Thatcher (below - Rob Bogaerts/Anefo/CCO) became Prime Minister the UK was a devastated and chaotic country. Strikes were seen an almost daily basis. High inflation led to mass unemployment and the divide between social classes was as great as it had ever been.

That was the 1970s and into the 1980s; that was the UK that Thatcher's government had to take on. Almost twenty years after the film was made, the UK is still a divided country, albeit for different reasons. Or are those reasons so very different?

In 1984, and throughout the film, there is more than a hint of sexual repression in that one of the concerns, as expressed by Billy's father Jackie (Gary Lewis), having discovered his younger son's interest, says that boys do football, boxing and wrestling. Billy replies that ballet is not just for poofs. Paradoxically, Billy's best mate Michael (Stuart Wells) does 'come out' to Billy as being gay, particularly after Billy calls by one day to find Michael cross-dressing. Yet despite the thinking of the era, once Billy's talent for dancing had been revealed, not just Billy's dad, but also his older brother Tony (Jamie Draven), along with the rest of the community, rally round to raise the money for Billy to go to the Royal Ballet School in London. But even though so much progress has been made in making differences unremarkable today, although the stigma surrounding sexuality has been removed, at least to a large degree, homophobia is still well established. The debate still goes on.

The divisions that exist today were, in a sense, predicted in Billy Elliot, and as they also were (again in one sense) by an earlier movie, Kes, made in 1969. Based on Barry Hines' book, Kestrel For a Nave, the film's principal character, Billy Casper, is indeed from what might be termed the lower socio-economic group. With an inadequate single mother (Lynne Perrie), a bullying and abusive older brother, Jud (Freddie Fletcher) and sadistic teachers at school, in particular the headmaster, Mr Gryce (Bob Bowes). Gryce is severe, abrupt, appears constantly in a bad temper, and does not listen, inflicting punishment even on a boy who has simply been sent