BILLY ELLIOT Blu-ray Review: Heart-Warming Tale Of Perseverance & Success

An excellent film has been given a superb Blu-ray release by Universal, with stellar visual and audio quality and a host of special features that will satisfy the most passionate of fans. You won’t be disappointed adding this to your collection!

Billy Elliot danced its way into the hearts of many audiences at the dawn of the new millennium, released today on Blu-ray for the first time it€™s bound to have the same effect on a whole new generation of viewers! Our review follows€ In County Durham during the endless, violent 1984 strike against the Thatcher closure of British coal mines, widower Jackie Elliot (Gary Lewis) is finding it hard to make ends meet. First son and fellow miner Tony (Jamie Draven) is out on the picket lines fighting the closures, whilst clashing with his father at home. Second son, 11-year-old Billy (Jamie Bell) is virtually ignored by Jackie, who takes a dim view of his son€™s poor performance in his weekly boxing class. Things worsen when both Jackie and Tony discover that Billy has secretly started attending a ballet class run by Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters). With Jackie refusing to let him continue classes and Tony mocking his younger brother, only Billy€™s schoolmate Michael (Stuart Wells) encourages him. When Mrs Wilkinson offers him secret private tuition, Billy cannot refuse. As his teacher becomes increasingly impressed with his dedication to training and his remarkable talent, she encourages him to try out for the world-renowned Royal Ballet School with an audition. Perhaps the prospect of a successful career that could only be a distant dream for those stuck in their surroundings, may finally alter his family€™s opposition and turn it into crucial support? Billy Elliot is a tale that has been told many times before in a number of guises: someone decides to undertake a mammoth task that they seem sure to fail, also to the disapproval of those closest to them, only to succeed and win the approval of those who once cast aspersions on their dream. Whilst the film may find its basis in the age-old notions of such a story, Billy Elliot remains a moving, inspirational account that has an impact on even the most emotionless members of an audience. The story tackles the overcoming of aversion, plus the politics of family and gender constraints, to create a narrative that is simultaneously full of hope and gritty realism. Set against the harsh and poverty stricken realities of the 1984 miners€™ strike, the film immediately sets up its characters as people set in their ways and resistant to change. The setting and location reflect the drudgery of the time and it is only Billy€™s dancing scenes that elevate the character out of the gloominess and depression of a meagre existence. The film boldly tackles issues of gender and sexuality, plus the prejudice that comes with a poor, uneducated community. As soon as Billy€™s Dad discovers he€™s been having ballet lessons, it is immediately assumed that this is a €˜poofy€™ thing to do, as dancing is for girls (regardless of the fact that some of the world€™s most famous dancers have very much been heterosexual €“ Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire for example, both of whom are mentioned by characters or featured in the film). Billy manages to determine that he shouldn€™t have to conform to his family€™s antiquated views of gender roles (primarily through his deceased mother€™s letter telling him to always be who he wants to be) and he embarks on his lessons stressing that just because he dances, it doesn€™t mean that he€™s gay. (It€™s interesting to note however, that the only character to back him from the beginning is Billy€™s best friend, who is gay). When Billy€™s father finally notices that his son is actually extremely talented, motions set about to changing the family€™s opinions €“ in fact the whole community gets behind Billy in his efforts to join the Royal Ballet School. Therefore, the film is equally about how one individual can be successful in changing a generally consensual mind set for the better. With wonderful dance scenes and hard-hitting moments of family drama, the film is splice of working class, 80s life in the north and the strong sense of realism makes it a thoroughly engaging film. Jamie Bell as Billy is truly the star of the show, managing to successfully play the most emotionally fraught scenes with as much proficiency as he does the dance sequences. His ebullience when dancing is expressive and infectious, whilst his abilities to capture the character€™s deep initial resentment towards his father and brother and unhappiness at the loss of his mother and his subsequently hard upbringing makes Billy an immediately sympathetic and likeable character. Julie Walters is similarly engaging as the teacher who manages to propel Billy into the world of dance. The actress embodies the character€™s unique teaching style in a humorous but charming way, making Mrs Wilkinson a friendly but powerful woman. Gary Lewis and Jamie Draven as Billy€™s father and brother are both perfectly cast, highlighting the harsh existence of a miner and the fraught tensions surrounding the strike that plays so heavily in the background of the narrative. They both exhibit stereotypical qualities of manliness within their performances, which helps reinforce the strain and drama surrounding Billy€™s desire top dance. Essentially, the performances by the entire cast work harmoniously to create a film that is simultaneously realistic and gratifying.

QUALITY

The visuals on Universal€™s release are exceptional, with the eleven-year-old film looking as gritty and fresh as it did upon its first release. The images are virtually free from grain, blemishing or any other form of distortion, making the new HD transfer a very clean one. The settings are extremely expressive of the time period, with great attention to detail paid in all aspects of the set dressing and construction. The high definition transfer makes this even more apparent, as the greater contrast makes even the finest of details crystal clear. The colour scheme is equally expressive of the period, with this HD transfer picking up the gaudy, depressing colours and patterns with even greater clarity. From the burnt oranges of the rundown brickwork of the small miners€™ houses, to the sickly greens, browns and yellows of the busy interior décor, Billy Elliot is undeniably housed in the 1980s. This garish but miserable colour palette is heightened in this release, causing walls to further close in around Billy and trap him in the drudgery for good. Outside scenes and those in the Royal Ballet School look more vibrant and fresh, suggesting that it is these locations that hold salvation for Billy. The audio is similarly adept, with the musical soundtrack €“ which plays a huge part in the narrative €“ filling viewers€™ homes with the sounds of 70s glam rock, 80s punk and the classical melodies of Tchaikovsky, as well as a beautiful original score. The dialogue is suitably audible at all times, although some softer lines require a little more concentration to hear clearly. The sound effects of the dancing €“ particularly Billy€™s tap routines €“ are strong and fill the full range of speakers, submerging viewers into his performances fully. Ambient sound is equally sufficient, capturing a slice of life in Durham during the 1984 miners€™ strikes. There is really very little to complain of here, with literally no hiss or distortion to distract viewers.

EXTRAS

Universal have outdone themselves with their release of Billy Elliot, which houses a huge array of bonus material that will keep fans and casual viewers happy for hours! On the disc, the following features can be found: € The Real Billy Elliot Diaries €“ This comprehensive and interesting documentary follows the three hopefuls looking to win the coveted role of Billy in the stage version of the film. Combining behind the scenes footage with a host of interviews, this feature is both engaging and in-depth, giving viewers a glimpse at the hard work and effort put into the stage play. Look out for comments from Elton John and the film€™s (and show€™s) director, Stephen Daldry. € From Stage to Screen €“ Expanding upon the previous feature, this documentary looks at the challenges of transporting the action and drama of the film into a musical stage show. Cast and crew discuss the challenges in this interesting look at the great work put into the transformation. € Breaking Free: The Making of Billy Elliot €“ This look at the production of the film combines interviews and behind the scenes footage to create a comprehensive and appealing documentary. € The Music €“ This series of clips from the film, feature commentary by Daldry about the musical choices made and their impact on the narrative. Songs and their corresponding clips include: T. Rex: Cosmic Dancer, T. Rex: Get it On, Pirouette, T. Rex: Children of the Revolution, T. Rex: I Love to Boogie, The Clash: London Calling, The Jam: Town Called Malice, Dance For Dad, T. Rex: Ride a White Swan. € Deleted Scenes €“ The scenes are compiled into three sections €“ Billy€™s Story, Tony€™s Story and Dad€™s Story €“ and all help build a further back-story and insight into the family. These can be played with or without Daldry€™s commentary, although it€™s interesting to hear his rationalization of why some of the solid scenes didn€™t make the final cut. € Extended Scenes with Director€™s Commentary €“ This interesting commentary offers a real insight into the production, as Daldry takes viewers through virtually every aspect of filmmaking process. Film: 4.5 out of 5 This strong tale of overcoming adversity and transcending the social, gender and family boundaries that are put in place to restrict us, is truly an inspiring watch that should be seen by everybody at least once! Visuals: 4 out of 5 The film looks fantastic in a new HD transfer, with the improved visual quality free from any distortion or grain. The added definition picks up the grit of the imagery even more successfully, which helps drive home the narrative even more so. Audio: 4.5 out of 5 From dialogue to soundtrack, Billy Elliot exhibits a cacophony of sound that fills speakers and transports viewers to the world of the characters. The pop/rock inspired soundtrack blends with classical and original pieces, whilst dialogue and ambient sound is always clear and intelligible. Extras: 4 out of 5 Floods of supplementary features are presented with the film, transcending the production itself to look at the stage show musical as well. Anybody who is even remotely fond of the film will find a host of delectable treats to feast on here! Presentation: 4 out of 5 The imagery of the front cover perfectly captures the inspirational tone of the film, with the familiar image of Billy jumping its choice. The video menus mimic this, with Universal€™s standard Bluray set up making them easy to navigate (even through the mass of bonus material). Overall: 4.5 out of 5 An excellent film has been given a superb Blu-ray release by Universal, with stellar visual and audio quality and a host of special features that will satisfy the most passionate of fans. You won€™t be disappointed adding this to your collection! Billy Elliot is released on Blu-ray today.
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