Stephen Daldry's switch to the screen brings us an invigorating and surprising tale about a ballet-dancing boy, writes Peter Bradshaw
From somewhere on a spectrum between Kes and How Green Was My Valley, the British stage director Stephen Daldry brings us Billy Elliot, his screen debut. This is a bold, attractive and emotionally generous film about a young boy growing up in the north-east during the miners' strike of 1984-85, who discovers in himself a talent for dance. And – to the horror of his striking miner father, played by the perennially excellent Gary Lewis – this is not even the virile and masculine dance of Gene Kelly. It is ballet: mincing, prancing, flouncing tutu-wearing ballet, and young Billy (Jamie Bell) has to work on his pliés along with all the girlies in a church hall where Dad sends him every week with his 50p sub in his hot little hand on the understanding that he is learning how to box.
This is a film with a lot of charm, a lot of humour and a lot of heart. Daldry's direction and the screenplay by Lee Hall (who wrote the radio drama hit Spoonface Steinberg) distinguish themselves further in the discreet, intelligent way they deal with the question of Billy's nascent sexuality, avoiding vulgarity and prurience. The young male ballet dancer is not a stereotype, and yet the film certainly does not feel it necessary to reassure the audience that Billy is straight; for my money, that's part of this picture's liberal humanity.