Billy Elliot - Study Guide
1) Discuss what role the setting of a working-class Durham plays in Billy Elliot.
Billy Elliot is a boy who loves to dance and hopes to become a professional ballet dancer. The problem is that living in the small town of Durham and having a low-class family, doesn't help him in the way to achieving his objective. His father and brother are coal-miner workers who are striking, therefore the family doesn't have a steady income that would permit Billy attending to ballet classes and going into a professional school of ballet. Billy also struggles with the negative stereotype of the male ballet dancer that his family and almost everyone in the working-class have.
Billy chooses to free himself from the solidarity and ordinariness of his working-class male surroundings and find refuge in the ballet classes. Billy has to accept and also justify to his family that dance is an alternative and a valid replacement for sport.
2) Make a list of the conflicting views/situations/parties in the film, and discuss how these conflicting views
a) affect both the community in general and an individual’s life
b) help you analyze the film (e.g. what dance means to Billy and what it means to the father).
The struggle to achieve and the liberating power of artistic expression. The community in general is drown in a bubble of social and economical problems that blind them from achieving some level of artistic expression. Billy’s case is an example of the struggle that a person has to go through when trying to be artistically free in an atmosphere of constant problems. This helps you analyze how dominant the working-class can be with people that try to achieve some kind of artistic power rather than, for example, work in terrible conditions in a mine.
The constant struggle between those who were against working in bad conditions and decided to go on strike, and those who thought they should continue working to maintain their families. For example, in the scene were the father and brother of Billy encounter one of the Billy’s father ex-partners that worked in the mine with him, there is a lot of tension. This helps you think on how a social problem like a strike can divide society terribly.
Billy’s home working-class environment where his brother is fighting with his father on issues directly related to the strike. This again, shows how a social problem divides not only society in general, but also family members.
The “macho” stereotype. This is reflected on the coal miner workers who won’t stop the strike not matter what. They won’t accept the idea of giving up and stop fighting for their rights. This affects society because those who don’t want to stop working feel obligated by the society to join the strike. And those who don’t, we have seen in the movie how they were undermined by the strikers when the bus that took them to the mines passed through the town.
Billy wants to break free, while his brother fights to maintain the male traditions of cole workers. This affects Billy directly because his brother is constantly against his decisions and wants to put Billy down by convincing their father that it was terrible to let Billy dance. This shows you how stereotypes and certain cultures and traditions affect the dreams of those who want to be different.
Banning Billy from going to ballet classes. This creates tension in the family and it could have been a cause for Billy giving up his dream. Despite his authoritative father, Billy goes to ballet classes, in fact, Billy’s anger and frustration create explosive solos which represent his inner desire for self-expression and challenges any accusations of being effeminate through dance.
3) What does the boxing hall signify in the film?
I personally believe that the boxing hall has a disguised meaning in the movie. I think that it is the place where Billy could fought his anger, his frustration, his family struggles and his disappointments. Since he didn't use it as a boxing hall, but as a stage to practice ballet, it shows that he didn't fight through violence, but with this movements and his personality which were reflected on stage.
4) How would you describe Billy in the film?
Billy is a boy who was attracted to dance since he first saw girls practicing ballet. When he discovers this passion, he starts taking classes until his father realizes and forbids him of going to practice. Since he is a stubborn kid and he won’t give up his dream he keeps on going (secretly obviously) to the classes. Billy is passionate and dedicated to what he loves. He is genuine, but at the same time he confronts his father when he keeps on in his search to achieve his objective.
5) Find examples of how Billy struggles with his father and with himself to break free.
When his father finds out he is going to ballet instead of boxing, and so they have a fight on that issue as Billy tries to explain him that it is another way of expressing yourself.
When he keeps on trying and trying, but he cannot improve in dancing. In that moment he kind of give up, but in the end he continues practicing.
Billy wants to break free, but his brother fights to maintain the male traditions of cole workers.
When Billy fights against the gay stereotypes assigned to male dancers.
6) What metaphors does the director employ in depicting this struggle?
The metaphor of how Billy struggles with himself to break free is used to convey perseverance and determination when trying to achieve an objective. The movie gives the audience a metaphor on how difficult and how many obstacles a person can encounter when trying to achieve a goal, but in the end all the perseverance pays off positively.
7) What is the role of Mrs Wilkinson in the film?
Mrs Wilkinson is Billy’s ballet teacher. She prepares Billy for the audition without being payed. She does this work because she knows Billy could have a great future as a professional dancer, and as she couldn't achieve her objective when she was young she wanted to prepare Billy to make it. I believe that she also acts as the mom Billy never had. She also believes in what Billy’s mom said about “Letting him be what he wants to be”.
8) What is the role of Michael in the film?
Michael is 11-year-old Billy’s closest friend, who is also gay, and quite open about it pretty abnormal for the place where they live. Michael supports Billy when nobody from his family did and this support is essential for Billy’s determined character.
9) What could Billy’s kissing Michael on the cheek before he leaves for London signify?
In my opinion, that kiss is to show how grateful Billy was for Michael’s support. It is also a way of making Michael happy since he was melancholic for his friend’s departure.
10) Discuss the concept of emasculation by relating it to the film.
Emasculation is the removal of the penis and the testicles, the external male sex organs. This act relates to the movie because it is an act that makes a man feel less masculine. In the movie, Billy is criticized because he is not the typical “macho” stereotype that his father and brother want to see. They think dancing makes Billy less masculine, as well as the emasculation does on men.
11) What does the classical ballet Swan Lake symbolize in the film?
The Swan Lake story is meaningful because it represents how Miss Wilkinson sees Billy. The swan's transformation into a human being for a few hours is representative of Billy's feeling when he is dancing. The transformation that happens for just a few hours for the swan enables itself into another world. In much the same way, Billy experiences this same transcendence when he dances. As he describes it as "electricity," there is a small amount of time when Billy is able to move beyond the context and contingency in which he lives. This is another instance in which the story has direct and meaningful connection to Billy. Accordingly, Miss Wilkinson relays the story for just as the swan will die if it is not rescued by the prince, Billy's soul will decay if dance is not a part of his life.
12) Examine the ending of the film with regard to the concept of social mobility in Britain.
At the end of the movie, we can see how Billy’s father and brother go to the theatre to watch him perform. Although they don’t actually look rich, they seem better than when they were striking. Social mobility is a change in social status relative to others' social location within a given society. In this case, Billy’s family haven't changed that much, but they have certainly improved since they could pay the train ticket and the theatre ticket to watch Billy performance. They are also in suits which make them look middle or upper class people.
13) To what extent does the film manage to challenge masculine stereotypes?
The film is constantly showing the masculine stereotypes that working-class people in small towns had during those times. Although the film shows the stereotype struggle Billy had to go through to achieve his goals, they also show how persistent and passionate he was for dancing and how he managed to disregard the macho stereotype that his family wanted him to be. It is a good way of showing that no matter what people expect about yourself or which stereotypes they want you to fit in, you got to be yourself.
15) In her article “Cinderella Dances Swan Lake: Reading Billy Elliot as Fairytale” (2006), Judith Lancioni argues that there is a Cinderella theme in Billy Elliot. Discuss to what extent this can be considered an accurate interpretation.
Discuss the poem below (source and author unknown) in light of the film:
How are little boys made?
Take one new baby,
Poke it and toss it, force it and push it,
Leave it alone a lot, and never speak softly to it.
How are little girls made?
Take one new baby,
Cuddle it and coo at it, soothe it and calm it,
And never let it stray.
What are little boys made of?
Scrapes and pains, fears not shown,
Lessons learned the hard way,
What are little girls made of?
Questions and dreams, secrets never told,
Trusts nurtured and betrayed,
Life waiting to unfold.
Firstly, there is a connection between Cinderella and Billy Elliot. Cinderella was a young lady who worked hard for her step sisters and mother, genuinely abused by them and treated with no respects. But Cinderella had greater objectives in her life, she wanted to get out of that obscure hole she was living in and go explore the outside world. I relate this to Billy’s story because he is abused by his authoritarian father and brother, he is disrespected by his father’s stereotypes and was banned of doing what he was passionate about. But Billy had great dreams and objectives for his life and he wanted to achieve them, no matter what.
Continuing with Cinderella’s story, when she meets the prince and they in the end fall in love with each other, she achieves the objective of her life: finding true love, escaping from her sister’s and step-mother’s and exploring the outside world.
Regarding the poem, it’s absolutely related to Billy Elliot’s story. First of all, because the poem tells how differently boy are treated of girls. How boy are left to grow up alone, to be strong, to learn the hard way. While the girls are treated softly and kindly, and can dream and question. Billy’s father treated him like this. He left him lonely, since Billy was practically living by his own. He wasn't supportive, for example, with Billy’s desire of learning how to dance. And he didn't treat him softly and kindly as every kid should be treated. It is not a matter of gender, children, wether he or she, must be treated well, must have the support of their families and must be loved, no matter what.