Working with the film "Billy Elliot"
Here you will find:
• a short introduction
• some questions on the first twenty minutes of the film
• some more general questions to discuss after you have seen the whole film
• some topics for writing
The film Billy Elliot is from 2000. It is 1 hour 45 minutes long. It was filmed on location in the north-east of England, near Durham – a traditional coal mining area. The year is 1984 or 1985. You hear a lot of regional accents from the Durham area – at first these might be a bit difficult to understand, but your ear soon gets used to them.
The first twenty minutes
We suggest you see the first twenty minutes or so of the film, up to the point where Billy is on his bed and quickly hides his dancing shoes..
After seeing the film this far, sit in groups of four and discuss the following points. One of you writes down your conclusions, and then the whole class discusses the same points.
1. What is the general setting: the milieu Billy grows up in, his home and family, the local community, etc.?
2. We get some early indications that there is a lot of tension in Billy’s home community. What are these early signs of tension? What seems to be going on? Is anyone in Billy’s family involved, and, if so, how?
3. Are there any indications that Billy is, physically, the sort of person who would be a good dancer?
4. So far, no one in his family has discovered that he has swapped boxing for dancing. They are obviously going to discover it. What do you think their reaction will be? Take roles: Billy, his dad, his brother, Mrs Wilkinson (the ballet teacher) and act out what you think they will all say to each other. (Later you can compare this to what actually happens in the film.)
5. Apart from Billy, which of the characters do you find most interesting so far? Why? How do you expect this character to develop in the film? (Here, you will probably come up with four different answers.)
After you have seen the whole film
Work in small groups and discuss these points. Then choose one or two of the points and put down your personal reflections in writing.
(a) The plot
1. Billy’s dad changes his attitude completely to Billy’s dancing. Did you expect this to happen? What might have happened if his dad had not changed his mind?
2. The film could end when Billy is travelling to London for the audition. But it does not end there. Why not, do you think?
3. Do you know what a cliché is? (If not, find out before you go on.) Some reviewers have criticised this film for being full of clichés. What clichés have you found in the film?
4. Billy nearly makes a right fool of himself at the audition in London. What “saves” him?
5. Does the film have a sub-plot (or maybe more than one)? What?
6. If you had made this film and were told you had to shorten it by five minutes, which scenes, or maybe which sub-plot, would you cut?
(b) The theme(s)
1. What is the main theme of the film?
2. Are there any secondary themes? If so, what are they, and why have they been included in the film?
(c) Which audience?
This film could not be seen by people under the age of 15 in the UK and most places in the USA. Why do you think they put on this restriction? Are there any “adult” themes or scenes in the film? What about its language – is it shocking? Would you let, say, 12-year-olds see it? Why/Why not?
1. Several people in the film are “outsiders”, or choose to become outsiders – that is, they are in some way at odds with the people they live with. Talk together about this, and discuss who in the film are outsiders, and why, and what complications it causes them.
2. Some people have to make difficult decisions. Who? What is your opinion of the decisions they make? What about Michael, who comes out of the closet? What about Billy’s dad, when he returns to work?
3. How do you feel about the way people look on Billy’s dancing? Who is supportive? Who is hostile? Why do you think many people are a bit hostile, or un-supportive, of boys who choose to have ballet lessons? Do we find the same prejudices in Norway?
4. Discuss the characters of Billy’s father and of his ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson. What are their good qualities and what are their less good qualities?
(e) The social setting
1. What does the film tell you about the conflict in the coal mining industry? Do you find the film neutral in its handling of the conflict, or does it make a political statement and take sides? If it is, in your opinion, neutral how does it allow both sides to state their case? If it takes sides, which “side” do you think the film invites you to support, and how does it involve your sympathy?
2. What scenes in the film tell you most about Billy’s family’s financial situation?
3. How are class differences showed?
(f) Music, acting, effects
1. Did you notice the music in the film? (Be honest!) If so, how did you like it?
2. Which scene in the film did you think was the best? Why?
3. Did you laugh? When? Can you remember five places in the film where you laughed?
Topics for writing
Choose one task:
1. Write a newspaper review of Billy Elliot. (Say what type of newspaper it is.)
2. Write a dialogue between three people: Alison, Pete and Melanie. Alison and Pete have seen the film and are trying to persuade Melanie to see it or not to see it (choose yourself).
3. Some people think an obsession with an activity you love (such as dancing, mountaineering, playing the violin, singing etc.) is dangerous. “Moderation in all things!” they say. What do you think? Write an essay about this.
4. Write your own story about someone who is determined to go on doing what they love in spite of opposition from their family. Find your own title.