Set against the backdrop of the 1984 coal miners' strike in England, Billy Elliot follows its titular character, an 11-year-old boy raised by his macho father and older brother in a depressed Northern town, as he discovers a talent - and a love - for ballet dancing.
You can pretty much guess every plot point from there on out, which is the problem: though ostensibly an "independent" British film (the budget was around $12 million), its predictable storyline reeks of Hollywood formula. A pity, because Jamie Bell is so good, and so game, as the young Billy, and he is matched by Gary Lewis (a ringer for George C. Scott) as his tough-love father. Together their wonderful on-screen relationship almost elevates the story from the cliche. And to its credit, Billy Elliot does finally remember the grim political situation behind its miners' strike, but only in the last act.
So while the movie almost redeems itself with several acts of grace and truth in its final 15 minutes, the hour and a half of manipulative treacle that precedes it left a bad taste in my mouth. And Daldry relies far too much on blasting great, well-known British rock songs to breathe life, anger, and urgency into what is really featherweight entertainment.