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Don't Be Fooled By the Cover...
on January 13, 2004
When my friend recommended we see this film, I really didn't remember hearing about it. When I saw the cover, I realized I had passed by it in the video store a million times without interest. It seemed like the story of some little innocent kid having a good time...perhaps he would meet a fairy or a magical mushroom or something.
Boy was I wrong on that one. This movie is truly one of the best I had seen in 2003...and I saw it at least twice and got different things out of it each time. The basic storyline is about an 11-year-old boy in a miner's family who discovers that he prefers to join the girls for ballet class rather than go to his boxing class.
When his father finds out that he's been spending money & time to learn ballet, he completely flips out. (A little predictable, yes.) But, the storyline is complex enough that you are able to sympathize with the father's point of view. He & his older son are part of the HUGE miner's strike in the early 1980's in the Northern England the helped change the industry forever. This strike - and the resulting poverty of many in their town - is a draining & disabling blow for a tough man who has lost his wife, is trying to keep his older son in line, and has to cut up or sell every last thing he cherishes in order to keep his family alive.
It is against this backdrop that one young boy discovers that he loves dance. Emotionally, you don't know where to turn. On one hand, you are delighted that this boy is able to find some sort of outlet for his pent-up anger, joy, sadness, fear & hope. On the other, you realize that this is not an ideal time or place for such a discovery...and the father has enough on his plate without needing to have a Disney-esque type transformation required of him.
As the story progresses, it is perhaps a little predictable. (Except when Billy beats up the little rich boy. That was unexpected and fairly amusing.) However, I think the genius of the film lies not in the uniqueness of the plotline but rather in the human story told via this plotline. The acting is absolutely suberb as you are drawn into this tale of strikers battling policemen, the intense loyalty of the miners to each other, children beginning to grow up, a tough little boy finding an array of hope, and the unexpected support a bunch of burned-out characters can give to each other when their hope is renewed.
I want to make a special mention of Billy's ballet teacher because I think she is one of my favorite movie characters. While Billy's father & brother & best friend, etc. are all great characters, I really loved this woman. She was as tough as nails and as burned out as a middle-class wife & mother could be in such a tough period...and yet you respect her for how she holds herself, for how she hangs on, and for her selfless interest in at least one little boy. I don't think she's an easy character to summarize & dismiss.
BTW - a special note to viewers. This movie employs cursing as a way of expressing some of the emotion of the day. I don't think it's forced at all, and the British accent & terms don't make it as offensive to our ears. However, I wouldn't recommend you watch this if it will be a problem.