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Analysing the Plot

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					                                          Analysing the Plot

Films, like novels, are primarily about storytelling. Although there are many ways by which a film-maker can
capture and hold an audience’s attention, the most effective and most common way is simply by telling a
good story.

A plot outline is a good check on how much you have understood of what you have seen, and whether you
have appreciated the mechanics and logic of the story.



                                             Plot Summary

County Durham, England, 1984.

   Eleven-year-old Billy lives with _________________________________________
   His father and brother are both _________________________________________
   Times are tough because ______________________________________________
   Every week Billy goes to ______________________________________________
   He isn’t very good at it and one day ______________________________________
    _________________________________________________________________
   From then on, his 50p is spent __________________________________________
   When his father finds out _____________________________________________
   Billy does not give up; he ______________________________________________
   She thinks he is good enough to _________________________________________
   In a confrontation between the police and striking miners, Tony _________________
   Billy misses ________________________________________________________
   Mrs Wilkinson urges Billy's dad _________________________________________
   At Christmas, Billy breaks into __________________________________________
   His father sees him and _______________________________________________
   Determined Billy should have his chance to go to ballet school, his dad _____________
    _________________________________________________________________
   Tony sees Jacky_____________________________________________________
   The other striking miners help him _______________________________________
   Billy and his dad are overwhelmed ________________________________________
   Billy is upset by the way he danced and ____________________________________
   In spite of this, he has shown ___________________________________________
   Fifteen years later, Dad and Tony ______________________________________




                                                                                                               1
                                                Plot Summary


County Durham, England, 1984.

Eleven-year-old Billy lives with his father Jacky, older brother Tony, both coal miners, and his frail Nana in a
mining town in the north of England. Life is not easy; the miners are on strike and times are tough. Billy
goes to boxing lessons every week though he is not very good at it. One day, he becomes fascinated with a
ballet class being held in the same hall. Encouraged to join the session by the teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, he
shows talent and he starts going secretly to ballet lessons instead of boxing.


When his father finds out, he forbids Billy to dance; ballet is for girls. Billy keeps going to private lessons with
Mrs Wilkinson, who believes he has the potential to be accepted by the Royal Ballet School. Tony is
arrested and Billy misses his audition. Mrs Wilkinson urges Billy's dad to support him, but there is a family
row.


At Christmas, Billy breaks into the village hall with his friend Michael and dances. His father sees him and
realises his son has talent. Determined Billy should have his chance to audition for the ballet school, his dad
plans to return to work to earn the money needed to pay for the trip to London. Tony sees him going into the
mine and persuades him not to break the strike. The other striking miners help him raise the money for the
bus fare.


Billy and his dad are overwhelmed by the ballet school surroundings and Billy, unhappy at how he danced,
hits another boy. But in spite of this, he has shown enough potential, and he is offered a place at the school.


Fifteen years later, Dad and Tony travel to London to see Billy dance in Swan Lake.




                                                                                                                   2
                                             Analysing the Plot

Plot, by definition, implies an interdependent structure, within which every event and incident that happens
has significance. Take any one out, and the whole pattern should be affected, the whole story should be
diminished. This tightly plotted approach is sometimes called the step-stair structure.

Episodic films, by contrast, are looser; individual scenes can be added or removed without really affecting
the outcome of the plot.

1. Is there one plot or more than one?

2. If there is more than one plot, which is the main plot, and which sub-plots?

3. Are they connected, and if so, how?

4. Which of these two plot types has been used for Billy Elliot?

5. Does anything happen in the film that is not necessary to the story? Are there any incidents or scenes
   that could be left out? Explain.




                                      Analysing the Plot - answers

 Is there one plot or more than one?

There are two plots, possibly three:
  Billy’s story (main plot),
  the miners’ strike (a background sub-plot),
  maybe Michael’s story.

    If there is more than one plot, are they connected, and if so, how?

The strike provides the social and historical context for Billy’s story, as well as complicating it – he misses his
audition and money is an issue. Michael’s story is connected because of Michael’s sexuality complicating
both his feelings for Billy and adding to the thematic issue of the perceived sexuality of male dancers.

 Which of these two types does Billy Elliot follow?
Does anything happen in the movie that is not necessary to the story?

It is a tightly organised step-stair plot. Each incident contributes to the working out of the plot.

For example: the pillow fight leads to a ‘moment’ between Debbie and Billy, which causes her to make her
sexual proposal to Billy; his refusal causes her to hang up the receiver and not deliver Billy’s message re the
audition, which causes Mrs W to go looking for Billy, which leads to the confrontation between her and Tony,
which causes Billy to be prohibited from dancing, which leads to his breaking into the hall and this leads to
Jacky finding out - and so on.

The confrontation between Jacky and Tony and the strike-breaker in the supermarket may seem
unnecessary but it is important to show the depth of feeling against the ‘scabs’ – so we understand the
enormity of what Jacky is doing when he decides he must go back to work.




                                                                                                                  3
                                         Narrative Structure

Narrative or plot structure is the term used to describe the order in which a story is told, and the
way in which different strands of the story are linked.
The most common ways in which stories are told are
  in chronological order, i.e. the order in which the events happen;
  using flashbacks, i.e. earlier events are included later in the story
  with a frame of later time, and the whole story a flashback
  with foreshadowing, in which future events are included earlier than they actually happen.

1. Which of these descriptions best fits the structure of this film? Give details to show this.


An important aspect of storytelling is point of view, i.e. who tells the story, from whose perspective
the events are shown and/or seen.

2. From whose point of view is the story told in this film? Is it consistent throughout or are other
   points of view shown?


The main element that drives any film story is conflict. As well as introducing characters and
setting the scene, early scenes must set up the plot, providing the basis for future conflict.

3.   What are the conflicts that provide the basis for the plot?
4.   What other conflicts develop as the story develops?
5.   Are these conflicts resolved by the end of this film?
6.   How are the conflicts established?


Narratives often involve a series of problems to be met and solved, or obstacles to be overcome,
like taking two steps forward and one step back, until the resolution is reached.

7. List the main obstacles and/or problems faced by Billy.


Early scenes set up expectations of main character(s) that will affect the structure of the story.

8. Can you identify examples of this?


Time is always an important consideration in a screenplay; a feature film may cover days, weeks,
even years of real time, so ways of showing time passing are needed.

9. How much time is covered in this film? Can you work out a timeline?


Some of the ways the passing of time may be indicated include:
 fades or dissolves                                        changing light
 showing a clock or a calendar                             dates or times on screen
 seasonal differences – winter to summer                            references in dialogue
 a montage of brief symbolic or typical images.
 cuts to the same scene at a clearly later time, e.g. from full plates to empty, or the same people
  in different clothes or in a different places

10. What techniques are used in this film to show time passing?




                                                                                                       4
Film-makers may wish to show different things happening at the same time. The usual technique
for doing this is by cross-cutting. The editor cuts quickly from one scene to another and back
again several times. It is a very useful technique for building tension and suspense, or for showing
contrasting ideas and images.

11. Can you identify examples of cross-cutting?


Even stories that are told in a simple chronological structure will need to lay the foundations for
future events, as well as keep the audience involved and expectant by hinting at the future.

12. Identify examples where:
     future events are 'signposted';
     details function as 'loaded pistols', ready to 'go off later in the story


A film needs to keep its audience involved but also alert, off balance – a comfortable audience may
fall asleep – through changes of mood or tone, e.g. from anger to humour and back to anger again.

13. Identify examples of mood or tone change like this.


Most commercial films – “classic Hollywood” type - are similar in structure to a three-act play:
    The first act introduces the main characters and situation, and ends with a scene that sets up a
     complication around which the plot will revolve - the catalyst or inciting incident; it disrupts
     the equilibrium of the original situation.
    The second act develops this complication.
    The third act brings the situation to a climax and resolution.
i.e. – get the hero up a tree, throw things at him, get him down from the tree.
Each act is structured to end on a moment of heightened tension or interest – a ‘turning point’ that
will change the direction of the story.

14. Does this film follow this pattern? Can you identify three acts? What is the catalyst?
15. The opening situation of a film is usually one of equilibrium, of a peaceful existence. This film
    is different. What are the already disruptive elements of the original situation?


The second act is usually the longest because it is built around a series of actions taken by the
main character(s) to get themselves out of the difficulty created by the complication. These actions
build up suspense because each successive attempt to resolve the difficulty brings a reversal in
fortune. The reversals gain momentum because they are usually of greater magnitude each time
they occur. Suspense can be heightened by the use of a 'deadline’ - the knowledge that there is
not much time left, and the overhanging question of whether they will make it.

16. Is there a deadline? What is it and how does it affect the events?
17. How does the film build suspense?
18. Look back at your list of obstacles – is each one of greater magnitude than the one before?
    Supply details.

19. Getting the story told. Comment on the reason for including the following incidents:
      Billy’s tipping the mattress off the bed to hide the ballet shoes.
      Debbie’s making advances to Billy, which he refuses.
      Tony’s going out with the hammer.
      Tony’s getting arrested.
      Jacky’s deciding to cross the picket line and go back to work.
      The boy at the audition trying to comfort Billy.




                                                                                                        5
                                       Narrative Structure - answers
1.   Which of the descriptions best fits the structure of this film? Give details to show this.
    chronological order – the film covers the events of the few months from Billy’s first seeing the ballet
     class until he leaves for London; an epilogue of his first starring role 15 years later is added.
    flashbacks – one brief scene as he remembers his mother.

2.   From whose point of view is the story told in this film?
     Most of the story is Billy’s but there are several incidents that he does not know about, mostly to do with
     the miners’ strike.

3.   What are the conflicts that provide the basis for the plot?
    The main conflict is between Billy and his family over his ambition. It is based mostly on the prejudice
     against ballet as being ‘sissy’, for girls etc. Both Jacky and Tony are worried about Billy’s sexuality.
    Money is a problem; there is little enough to spare.
    The death of Billy’s mother has left Jacky raw and vulnerable; he is unable to talk about it.
    There is conflict between Tony and Billy – typical sibling stuff, complicated by Tony’s being so much
     older and naturally aggressive.
    The conflict between the police and the miners – though in narrative terms, the striking miners function
     as little more than a sign of the masculine class culture which initially thwarts Billy's ambitions.

4.   What other conflicts develop as the story develops?
     Class conflict – Mrs Wilkinson as seen as being middle class and patronising; some of the hostility may
     be a result of a (subconscious) fear that ballet will take Billy out of his class.

5.   Are these conflicts resolved by the end of this film? Yes
     Billy and his father develop a new rapport; even Tony becomes supportive.
     The miner’s conflict is resolved unhappily – and the long-term results are ignored.

6.   How are the conflicts established?
     The basic violent ambiance in the home is established by Tony’s swearing at and hitting Billy, Dad’s
     closing the piano on Billy’s hands – and by the whole boxing ethos.
     The social conflict through the ominous presence of the police everywhere, plus the confrontational
     scenes as the ‘scabs’ arrive.
     The class conflict is prepared for by the difference in living environments.

7.   List the main obstacles and/or problems faced by Billy.
    his own embarrassment at joining a ballet class; his fear of being thought a sissy.
    the difficulty of finding places to practise – in the bathroom etc
    fear of being found out (ballet shoes under the mattress)
    Dad forbids him to continue – he does so privately
    the physical demands on his body – leads to the flare up with Mrs Wilkinson
    he misses his audition; Mrs Wilkinson comes to the house; Tony is particularly hostile
    he is forbidden to dance
    when Jacky agrees Billy needs his chance, money is a problem (he pawns his wife’s jewellery)
    nerves and humiliation at the audition; Billy hits a boy which must jeopardise his chances

8.   Can you identify examples of character expectations?
    Tony’s aggressiveness – to Billy, to Jacky, to the police.
    Jacky’s grief over his wife’s death makes it difficult for him to relate to Billy at times.


9.   How much time is covered in this film?
     Apart from the epilogue (15 years later), the time covered is several months, maybe more than a year.
     Early scenes seem to take place in the summer, Billy is seen at school, Christmas is included, and the
     strike ends in 1985. Billy probably begins at the Ballet School in September, he start of the new school
     year. However, specific times are not spelled out.

10. What techniques are used in this film to show time passing?
    seasonal differences – summer - Christmas
    Billy seen at several lessons etc in different clothes.
    similar scenes – strikers etc – repeated at a later juncture
    Billy’s increasing skills




                                                                                                                   6
   references in dialogue – “I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Billy for months.”
   montage: Billy practising at home//at ballet lessons; school scenes

11. Can you identify examples of cross-cutting?
   Billy in boxing ring // ballet girls
   police and miners//Billy at lessons
   confrontation between Mrs Wilkinson and Tony//Billy dancing

12. Identify examples where future events are 'signposted'.
   There is always the fear and expectation that Jacky will find out about Billy’s lessons.
   The moment between Debbie and Billy as well as the relationship between Billy and Michael.
   Tony going out with the hammer.
   Mrs W telling him the story of Swan Lake.
    Details that function as 'loaded pistols', ready to 'go off later in the story.
   The incident with the scab in the supermarket.
   The violence that surrounds Billy in daily life, plus his experience with Michael, make him react badly but
    unsurprisingly with violence to the boy at the audition.
   His rejection of Debbie leads to the confrontation between Mrs W and the Elliot men.

13. Identify examples of mood or tone change like this
    The film maintains an impressively delicate balancing act throughout its duration between the
    whimsically comical tale of the boy's desire to be a ballet dancer and the backdrop of hard-edged, violent
    realism against which it is set.
   the cheerful opening frames / Billy’s worry when he realises his grandmother is lost
   the fun Billy and Michael have in the hall / the mood when Jacky walks in
   fun in the snow / Billy’s concern at Michael’s behaviour
   Debbie and Billy pillow fighting / looking at each other etc etc

14. Does this film follow a three-act pattern?
   Act 1: intro of characters, situation; the catalyst = when Billy decides to join the ballet class.
   Act 2: Billy’s lessons, discovery by Dad, the private lessons, the missed audition, the confrontation,
    climaxing in Billy’s dance of defiance.
   Act 3: Dad’s decision that Billy must get his chance, the efforts to get Billy to London; his audition; his
    acceptance and farewells.
   short epilogue to show it was all worth it.
    There is – as is usual in 3-act structures – a mid-point scene: the confrontation between Mrs Wilkinson
    and Billy’s family. He says the crucial line, “I don’t want a childhood. I want to be a ballet dancer.” Not
    coincidentally, it follows – is a direct result of – the crucial confrontation between strikers and police.
    What is the catalyst?
    Billy’s decision to join the ballet class. Everything grows out of this choice. He begins to live two lives.

15. The opening situation of a film is usually one of equilibrium, of a peaceful existence. This film is different.
    What are the already disruptive elements of the original situation?
    The household is already in turmoil: the men are on strike, so money is tight and tempers are frayed;
    Billy’s mother has recently died (December 1983), so there is grief and anger to add to that; Billy’s Nana
    is drifting into senility.

16. Is there a deadline? What is it and how does it affect the events?
    There is the sense that Billy will get only one shot at this – the community is unlikely to find the money
    for a second audition – and Billy is unlikely to feel like pursuing the battle. His age also – although boys
    can start ballet later than girls, there is always the sense of time running away.

17. How does the film build suspense?
   Constant tension between Billy’s ballet and the fear of being found out – he hides in the changing rooms,
    he hides his ballet shoes under his mattress etc.
   The latent violence in the Elliot men is always a threat.
   There is never any certainty that he will achieve his ambition – he is ungainly and undisciplined; his
    working class background makes him out of place in London; even after he is accepted, there is always
    the fear that he won’t fit in.

18. Look back at your list of obstacles – is each one of greater magnitude than the one before?
   More an accumulation of difficulties – though being forbidden to go to lessons is a major hurdle;
   the missed audition is serious, and means they must find enough money to go to London.
   The assault at the audition is the most serious yet – might stop him getting his chance.



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19. Getting the story told. Comment on the reason for including the following incidents:

   Billy’s tipping the mattress off the bed to hide the ballet shoes.
    To create the fear that he might get found out. If he had just shoved the shoes under the mattress – the
    most likely thing to do – there would have been less chance of his father noticing anything.

   Debbie’s advances to Billy.
    She is miffed by this, so when Billy phones to say he can’t make the audition, she puts the receiver down
    and obviously doesn’t pass on the message. This means that when her mother is stood up by Billy, she
    goes in search of him, and this leads to the confrontation with Jacky and especially Tony. Imp for cause
    and effect.

   Tony’s going out with the hammer.
    Presumably is the reason he is targeted by the police and leads to his arrest.
    Causes a confrontation with his father, which he wins. Important character info.

   Tony’s arrest.
    Directly responsible for Billy missing his audition; he must show solidarity with the family. The plot
    requires he miss the audition so that Jacky must make a choice whether to support him; and so that they
    have to go to London, outside their own environment.

   Jacky’s deciding to cross the picket line and go back to work.
    Shows the depth of his commitment to Billy’s dream – and so brings Tony around. Imp for enabling them
    to raise the money.

   The boy at the audition trying to comfort Billy.
    Makes it even less likely that Billy will be accepted – heightens the suspense at the end.




                                                                                                               8
                                        The Paradigm: the 3-act structure

Act I                                                      Act II                                 Act III
                                      First Half                         Second Half
                                 dramatic context                     dramatic context
                                                                                                  getting to the audition;
                       need to dance/fear of being sissy              forbidden to dance          results of the audition
                      need for secrecy                               lowest point = Xmas

                                                         Mid-point



               Plot Point 1                         Mrs Wilkinson confronts              Plot Point 2
       Billy joins the ballet class                      Billy’s family                 Dad decides Billy needs
                                                                                           his chance
                Set-up                                   Confrontation                            Resolution

     Plot Point 1 comes at about 15 mins (appropriate in a 105 min film); the ‘mid-point’ is at 55 mins - half
      way through.
     The classic First Act question is whether to accept or refuse a challenge.
     Billy’s dramatic need – that drives the whole story – is to be a dancer.
     A ‘plot point’ = any incident or event that spins the action into another direction.
     When Billy's external conflict - the need for secrecy - is resolved, the narrative line shifts to his father and
      his need for the money to help Billy. It is at this point that the two plots coincide.

[Diagram based on Syd Field: Going to the Movies, Dell Publishing, 2001]



The Emotional Curve
    tension
                                                                               climax




                                                                                                   dénouement =
                                                                                                   emotional cost of
                                                                                                   leaving home




    ACT I             ACT II                  midpoint                         ACT III             time




                                                                                                                             9
                                               Plot Questions

How well did you watch the film?

1.  What is Billy doing in the first scene?
2.  Where is Tony going?
3.  “Your 50 p is on the fridge.” What is it for?
4.  Where is Billy’s mother?
5.  Why is the ballet class sharing the boxing hall?
6.  When Billy joins the class, what does he do that makes Mrs Wilkinson take notice?
7.  What does Billy try to cut the grass on his mum’s grave with?
8.  Why does Billy hide in the changing rooms after boxing? Why does he not go to both classes?
9.  Why does Billy steal the library book?
10. How does Dad find out that Billy has been going to ballet lessons? What is his response?
11. What does Billy do?
12. Mr Wilkinson is angry with the striking miners. Why?
13. When Billy visits his friend Michael, what does he find?
14. Tony is chased and caught by the police. How does this happen – and why?
15. Why does Jacky chop up the piano?
16. How does Billy persuade his dad that he is serious about dancing?
17. How does Jacky raise the money to take Billy to London?
18. How does Billy describe the way he feels when he is dancing?
19. When Jacky runs to the social club with the news of Billy’s acceptance, he is immediately deflated. What
    has happened?
20. When Tony and Jacky go to see Billy in London, what ballet is he dancing in? What is unusual about it?

How much did you understand?

21.   Billy has to go and find his Nana when she is missing. Where is she and why?
22.   Who are the men with the vans on the road above?
23.   Billy obviously does not know how to play the piano. Why does he not get lessons?
24.   Why does Michael refuse to join the boxing club?
25.   Billy tells Mrs Wilkinson he has to go to boxing next week, but we know he will go back to the dance
      class. How do we know this?
26.   When Billy tries to talk to Tony about death, Tony swears at him. Why?
27.   Michael says his dad dresses up in women’s clothes. Why is this ironic?
28.   How does Billy feel about Michael?
29.   Where is Tony going to with the hammer?
30.   When Billy gets his letter of acceptance, he acts as though he has been rejected. Why?




                                                                                                             10
                                        Plot Questions - answers

1. What is Billy doing when we first see him?
    Making breakfast for his Nana = toast, boiled eggs.
2. Where is Tony going?
    The picket line, which gathers before the bus brings the strike-breakers to work.
3. “Your 50 p is on the fridge.” What is it for?
    Boxing lessons
4. Where is Billy’s mother?
    She is dead – a few months earlier.
5. Why is the ballet class sharing the boxing hall?
    The room where the ballet class is usually held is being used as a soup kitchen for the miners.
6. When Billy joins the class, what does he do that makes Mrs Wilkinson take notice?
    He holds a pose much longer than any of the girls – and it is his first class.
7. What does Billy try to cut the grass on his mum’s grave with?
    A pair of scissors.
8. Why does Billy hide in the changing rooms after boxing?
    He is going to join the ballet class but doesn’t want anyone to know. He can’t go to both classes
    because he has only 50 p – the cost of one.
9. Why does Billy steal the library book?
    He is not allowed to take out an ‘adult’ book on a junior card (something that used to annoy me when I
    was his age.)
10. How does Dad find out that Billy has been going to ballet lessons?
    The boxing teacher tells him Billy has not been going to boxing.
    What is his response?
    To forbid Billy to go to ballet – which is for girls.
11. What does Billy do?
    He goes to see Mrs Wilkinson, who offers him private lessons, for free.
12. Mr Wilkinson is angry with the striking miners. Why?
    He parrots the official Thatcher government attitude to the mines and miners, which takes no account of
    the communities being threatened by mine closure. Mr W has been made redundant from his own job,
    so he is doubly bitter.
13. When Billy visits his friend Michael, what does he find?
    Michael is wearing a dress – his sister’s.
14. How does Tony get caught by the police?
    He gets entangled in sheets hung across the street to dry, and blunders into a police cordon. He is one
    of the leaders of the strikers, one of the agitators.
15. Why does Jacky chop up the piano?
    They need firewood to keep themselves warm. It is symbolic of their desperation.
16. How does Billy persuade his dad that he is serious about dancing?
      When his father finds him in the hall, he dances for him – at him, really. In that dance he expresses his
      determination, his defiance, his demand to be taken seriously.
17.   How does Jacky raise the money to take Billy to London?
      He pawns his dead wife’s watch and jewellery.
18.   How does Billy describe the way he feels when he is dancing?
      “I sort of disappear. Like I feel a change in me whole body. Like there’s a fire in me body. I’m just
      there… flying… like a bird. Like electricity. Yeah... like electricity.”
19.   When Jacky runs to the social club with the news of Billy’s acceptance, he is immediately
      deflated. What has happened?
      The union has capitulated, the strike is over – with nothing gained but misery.
20.   When Tony and Jacky go to see Billy in London, what ballet is he dancing in?
      An all-male Swan Lake.




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How much did you understand?

21. Billy has to go and find his Nana when she is missing. Where is she and why?
    She has wandered off in her night-dress; she is developing Alzheimer’s, and does not even recognise
    Billy when he finds her.
22. Who are the men with the vans on the road above?
    Police with riot gear, ready to face the strikers’ picket line.
23. Billy obviously does not know how to play the piano. Why does he not get lessons?
    With the miners on strike, there would be no money for lessons. (It is also a middle class thing so
    maybe not even considered appropriate; it was Mum’s piano so perhaps she came from the middle class
    to marry a miner.)
24. Why does Michael refuse to join the boxing club?
    He dislikes it, thinks it stupid to knock other people around; says Billy isn’t good at it. Part of the irony
    being set up – Michael is what Billy’s family is afraid he might be.
25. Billy says he has to go to boxing next week, but we know he will go back to the dance class.
    How do we know this?
    Immediately following his statement, he starts swinging the stick he is carrying and we see Fred Astaire
    in Top Hat. Suggests Billy’s frame of mind.
26. When Billy tries to talk to Tony about death, Tony swears at him. Why?
    Tony is probably embarrassed at being asked to talk about something so personal. Like his father, he is
    not articulate about feelings, expresses only anger.
27. Michael says his dad dresses up in women’s clothes. Why is this ironic?
    One assumes his dad is a miner; he is obviously part of the macho social environment that Tony and
    Jacky are afraid Billy will be ostracised by.
28. How does Billy feel about Michael?
    He is his best friend; Billy is remarkably tolerant of Michael and remains friends with him.
29. Where is Tony going to with the hammer?
    A touch of sabotage at the mine, one assumes.
30. When Billy gets his letter of acceptance, he acts as though he has been rejected. Why?
    Up to now, his whole focus has been getting accepted. Suddenly he has to face the reality of leaving
    home, going to London, leaving everything he knows; and feelings of inadequacy that he might not fit in,
    might not measure up.




                                                                                                               12
                                  Close Reading the Text – a Checklist

When you watch the film for the second time, you will need to look much more closely and analytically. The
purpose is to identify and understand the techniques that film-makers use to manipulate audience
responses.

As you watch each scene or sequence, look for the following, and make notes of what you see. Not all
questions will need to be answered for every sequence.

Plot/narrative:
 What does the scene contribute to the way the story is being told?
 If time has passed, how do you know?
 Would it matter if the scene had been left out? Why/why not?
 ‘Drama is conflict.’ Is there conflict in this scene? Between whom? Is it resolved or will it lead to more
   conflict further on?

Setting:
     Where is the scene set?
     Is this a new setting or one seen before?
     If new, do you know where it is? How?
     Are there any significant details that may prove important?
     Are any details included to provide local colour i.e. to make the setting realistic and convincing?
     What time of day is it? How do you know? Is that significant?
     What is the weather like? Is that significant?
     Has the director used contrast, colour? How?
     Is there anything in the setting that affects the characters?
     Is there anything about the setting that provokes a response in you? What kind of response?

Characters
 Are there new characters in this scene, or only ones we have met already?
 If new, who are they? How is their identity established?
 Do we learn anything new about the characters? What? And how?
 Look at the costumes. What do they tell us about the characters, the situation?
 Contrast is an important technique in characterisation. Are any of the characters contrasted? How? To
   what effect?

Cinematic Techniques
 Consider the mise en scène – which is a film term meaning everything in a particular scene, and how we
   are shown it.
 How is the scene filmed? What kind of lens (zoom, wide angle), shots (size, angle etc), movement?
   What is the effect of this?
 How is it lit? Natural or artificial lighting? directional? colour filters?
 Listen for sound effects and for ambient sound (Foley). What do they contribute?
 How is the dialogue treated? Is it spoken to enhance the beauty of the poetry or is it modernised, made
   more realistic? Is the treatment appropriate?
 Look for colour, use of repeated motifs, use of visual symbols.
 Look for links between scenes – outpoints and inpoints; listen for aural bridges




                                                                                                               13
                                  Close Reading - Establishing sequences

Share observations around these questions:
   a) Where and when is the film set?
   b) How is the setting established?
   c) What details are emphasised?
   d) Which characters are identified as important?
   e) How is this done through film and sound techniques?
   f) What are characters doing and/or saying the very first time we see them?
   g) Does this action indicate any qualities about the person that become important later?
   h) Is there any event that suggests what the film is going to be about, or the issue with which it will
       deal?

By now
  the scene has been set: in time, place, social group
  the main characters introduced: we already know quite a lot about each one
  the plot is underway: the miners’ strike; Billy has had his interest in ballet sparked
  conflict has been set up: miners v police; ballet v. boxing; Billy v. his family
  most of the recurring motifs and symbols have already been introduced: feet, the little girl, the police
   presence; the piano, the idea of dancing

Suggested tasks:
 list what you know already about each main character
 list the signifiers that tell you about setting – time, place, society etc
 identify any recurring motifs or symbols that you have noticed
 has anything been suggested so far that will lead to problems or trouble later on?
 analyse in detail the camera shots and angles in the first few scenes. What do they help reveal about
   this family?



                               Close Reading the Text: opening scenes

   Don’t try to analyse all camera shots, angles etc – select a few significant ones. The camera work is generally
    understated and unobtrusive, in service of the story. This was a deliberate policy decision by the director; he says
    he did not want the “overblown use of the camera, which is often the way with first-time directors. I wanted to avoid
    that spurious search for style over content and I tried to move the camera only when it was important to the
    narrative.”
   Look out for motifs and symbols.
   The chapter headings are from the DVD; // = CUT; the spaces _____ are for filling in camera shots etc.

    action                                               comments
    1. titles
1   INT. BILLY’S ROOM - DAY
    Inpoint = _______________________
    song: “I was Dancing When I Was 12.”
    Billy bouncing on bed: ____ of his face,
    arms, hands, feet etc bounce into frame

2   INT. KITCHEN - MORNING
    song continues
    Billy makes breakfast - boiled eggs, toast;
    carries tray and discovers room empty.

3   EXT. HOUSE/ STREET/ UNTIDY GREEN
    AREA
    song continues
    Billy finds his grandmother; leads her home.
    Behind them – low angle shot - we see vans
    and men with shadowy shields – shadowy,
    ominous




                                                                                                                        14
4   INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT
    song ends //Tony takes off his earphones,
    complains that Billy has been playing his
    records; hits him. Billy denies it – a lie;
    complains about Tony’s smoking dope.

5   INT. HOME - MORNING

    CUT to inpoint =
    Tony V.O.
    Billy in pyjamas ‘playing’ piano// Grandma
    lying in bed // Tony getting coat //Billy at
    piano // Dad, not dressed, brings in coal
    scuttle // Tony leaves without Jacky

6   // Dad by Billy at piano: “Leave it, Billy.”
    “Mum would have let us.”
    Dad closes piano on B’s hands // leaves //
    _____ on Billy’s face // Grandma // Billy
    starts to play again // “Your 50 pence is on
    the fridge.” // Billy and keyboard -
    ____________ to happy family photos on
    piano – Mum prominent.

    2. A Disgrace to the Gloves
7   EXT. PICKET LINE - DAY
    ____ on gesticulating hands; sirens, chants
    of “Scab! Scab!” as police van and bus pass
    // Tony in the midst of the protesting miners;
    as bus passes, helmeted police with visors
    and shields are revealed.
8   EXT. HALL - DAY
    CUT to signs on wall: Boys’ Club, Dance
    School
    Billy – boxing gloves round his neck – and
    Michael sitting on rubbish bin. Billy is
    pushed aside by another boy. Michael
    expresses disdain for boxing, for Billy’s
    prowess.

9   INT. HALL
    The ballet class will share the room because
    the ground floor is being used as a soup
    kitchen for the miners.
    Billy is late.

10 ___________________: Billy // Dad // other
    boy // girls
    Billy faces his opponent with ______ of Dad
    watching through the wire cage and the
    tinkle of the piano accompanying him. Billy
    ‘dances’ around the ring to cries of “Hit ‘im!”
    – and is hit in the face. “This is man-to-man
    combat – not a bloody tea dance.”
    Told to use the punch bag. “You’re a
    disgrace to them gloves, your father and the
    traditions of this boxing hall.”




                                                      15
   3. The Ballet Class
11 Inpoint: _________ of Billy flailing at punch
   bag; V.O. Mrs Wilkinson
   // he is told to stay after the others have left,
   and return keys to Mrs W // _______ at
   punch bag // Mrs W, smoking, behind piano
   // _______ Billy and bag sway to music

12    ____________________ in on Billy
        as he listens to the music and her
      instructions // _____ of Billy walking
       towards ballet class // Mrs W // line
         up of little girls in tutus with Billy
      behind them // offers her the keys //
       “’The Sun will come out tomorrow.’
                     Fat chance.”

13 The lesson continues and Billy’s feet in
     boxing shoes are seen to be following the
     instructions; given ballet shoes and “Go on, I
     dare you.”


14 “Hold it.” Billy is able to hold the pose long
     after the girls have given up


15 EXT. STREET - DAY

     Mrs W in car invites Billy next week. He
     says he has to go to boxing.


16 As he watches her car disappear, we hear
     the voice of Fred Astaire singing "Top Hat,
     White Tie and Tails"; Billy moves to its beat.

17 INT. STAGE
     INSERT: Fred Astaire from Top Hat.



By now
  the scene has
  the main characters have
  the plot has
  conflict has
  most of the recurring motifs and symbols have already been introduced:


Suggested tasks:
 list what you know already about each main character
 list the signifiers that tell you about setting – time, place, society etc
 identify any recurring motifs or symbols that you have noticed
 has anything been suggested so far that will lead to problems or trouble later on?
 analyse in detail the camera shots and angles in the first few scenes. What do they help reveal about
   this family?




                                                                                                          16
                                  Opening Scenes: Camera work

camera work/editing   action                                                 sound/light
                         hand putting LP on turntable, nervously turning
                          it on
                         record player while legs appear behind
                         sunflower patterned wallpaper
                         face, arms, hands, feet etc bounce into frame
                         kitchen wall, doorway
                         Billy comes through, toward the camera to
                          bench, to stove, swings round with eggs on
                          spoon, to toaster, jumps up onto bench,
                          catches toast with plate, back to tray, bumping
                          the swinging peg bag, picks up tray and
                          crosses room to the sliding door which he
                          opens with his head
                         Billy at door with his perpetually worried face
                         her empty bed
                         Billy with tray; he backs into kitchen, turns,
                          spilling an egg
                         Billy coming out of back door towards camera,
                          up to street, little girl in blue watches, he
                          pauses
                         Billy’s feet running away from camera
                         Billy running to camera up the street with the
                          child watching
                         his feet running
                         shrubby area: Billy on left, Nana on right,
                          further back; he turns and sees her, runs to her
                         towards camera and comes up behind her;
                          gentle hand on her shoulder; she turns,
                          frightened and lost – juxtaposition of
                          __________________________
                         he takes her hand and leads her away
                         trees and bushes, and the shadowy sinister
                          vans and police on the road above
                         bedroom: bed lamp, Billy lying, reading close
                          to camera, Tony sitting on bed at back; the
                          record player by the window; Tony takes off his
                          earphones, complains that Billy has been
                          playing his records; hits him, abuses him; Billy
                          denies playing the record; Tony goes back to




                                                                                           17
    bed, Billy complains about Tony’s smoking
    dope, Billy turns off light and snuggles into
    bed.
   Billy’s hands on piano; Billy in pyjamas picking
    out notes
   Nana in bed
   Tony gets his jacket
   Billy at piano
   Jacky comes in with coal scuttle
   Tony with armband: “N.U.M. Official Picket’
   Jacky sitting in foreground, Billy behind him, in
    similar pose
   Tony rolls up strike poster
   Jacky and Billy again
   Tony leaves
   Dad and Billy: “Leave it Billy”; “Mum would
    have let us.” Jacky who suddenly stands,
    turns, shuts the piano lid Billy’s face in profile:
    no change – he’s used to this
   Jacky’s back view leaving the room
   Nana in bed
   Billy’s profile, he slowly lifts lid and resumes
    picking out notes
   Jacky at door
   Billy at piano, he looks up to happy family
    photos on piano.




                                                          18
                                        Scene-by-scene Commentary

Now continue with the rest of the film. Some scenes have been combined for practicality.
Note: CROSS-CUTS properly refer to movement between different scenes happening at the same time; MONTAGE is a
sequence of quick scenes suggesting different times. Daldry sometimes mixes these two types of editing =
INTERCUTTING.

     3. The Ballet Class - continued
18   EXT. DAY
     _____ Billy and Grandma, tiny on horizon;
     Grandma talks about Mum, Fred Astaire and
     her own ballet.
19   They walk on and we see they are in a
     cemetery. Billy is carrying flowers. He tries
     to rub graffiti off his mother’s tombstone. He
     cuts the grass with a pair of scissors.
     Grandma has wandered off.
20   INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT
     Billy’s attempt to talk to Tony is knocked
     back; Tony just swears at him
     4. To Be a Dancer
21   EXT. STREET - DAY
     Inpoint = ____________________
     Debbie tries to persuade Billy to come back
     to the ballet class. She drags her stick along
     the wall and without a break along the police
     shields. A police van passes and Debbie has
     vanished by the time it has gone.
22   INT. HOME - DAY
     Billy at piano picking out tunes
23   INT. HALL - DAY
   feet in sneakers etc = changing rooms; Billy
   hides in the changing room until the boxers
   have left
24 // ballet girls and _______ to show Billy in
   their midst
25   INT. CHANGING ROOM – DAY
     Debbie and Billy; Mrs W – Billy – “I feel like a
     right sissy” – but will come again next week.
26   INT. HOME - DAY
     Billy hides the ballet shoes under his
     mattress; says he’s lost the gloves. “They
     were my father’s gloves.” – emphasises
     tradition.
     music – ______________________

27   INT. SCHOOL - DAY
     _____________________ of scenes:
     classroom, changing room, running etc; he
     and Michael take a short cut.
     Billy runs into the next scene.

28   EXT. MOBILE LIBRARY - DAY /INT.
     Billy goes to mobile library; steals a book on
     ballet.

29   INT. HALL - DAY
     ballet girls run up the stairs; Billy looks up and
     follows

30   INT. HOME – DAY
     ____________________: Billy practising at




                                                                                                            19
     home // at dance class // music & Mrs W’s
     voice continues through all//his success does
     not get the approval he expects but a wink
     suggest complicity, a special relationship

31   Mr Braithwaite (the pianist) tells him he looks
     an idiot among the girls.

32   EXT. STREET/ HOME - DAY
     ________________________: Billy dancing
     down the street // Billy at piano

     5. Dad Finds Out
33   EXT. THE PICKET LINE – DAY
     The boxing coach tells Jacky that Billy hasn’t
     been coming.
     The miners shout ‘scab’ at the bus, as eggs
     drip off.
34   EXT. PICKET/INT. HALL
     _______________________: confrontation
     between police and strikers (high angle
     overhead shot) // ballet class – Billy singled
     out – “Powerful. Proud.”

35   EXT. SHOP - DAY
     Confrontation between Tony and his “best
     mate” Gary who is a strike-breaker.

36   INT. HOME - DAY
     Billy off to ballet – with his boxing gloves
     prominent
     V.O. from radio: “P.M. Margaret Thatcher
     referred to members of the striking National
     Union of Mine Workers as the ‘enemy within’.
     . . . several months of violent clashes
     between police officers and striking miners.”

37   EXT. DAY
     Billy passes policemen playing ball

38   INT. HALL - DAY
     Ballet class: Dad sees Billy who freezes


39   INT. HOME - DAY
     Dad tries to explain to Billy that ‘bahly’ is for
     lasses, that “lads do football or boxing or
     wrestling” – manly activities.
     The scene ends predictably – with an order to
     stop and a frustrated cry of, “I hate you.”
     ________ of the two faces and an eruption
     into violence – Dad doesn’t know what to do
     about this son.

40   EXT. STREET - DAY
     song: “The Children of the Revolution.”
     Billy punches a strike poster in anger; stands
     in dejection and frustration

41   EXT. MIDDLE CLASS STREET// INT. - DAY
     Billy, in school uniform, visits Mrs W; stays for
     tea. Mr W – who has been made redundant
     – criticises miners for striking.



                                                         20
     Billy understands his father even while being
     angered by him: “It’s not his fault, Miss.”
     6. Mrs Wilkinson’s Offer
42   EXT. CAR - DAY
     Mrs W says she thinks Billy should try for the
     Royal Ballet School and offers to teach him
     privately and for nothing.
     The wise child clears the air: “You don’t fancy
     me, do you?” She doesn’t.

43   EXT. / INT. - DAY
     Billy visits his friend Michael who is wearing a
     dress. Michael puts lipstick on Billy.
     7. Private Lessons
44   INT. HALL - DAY
     Inpoint = _____________________
     Billy has come for a lesson, with a football, a
     Newcastle football shirt and a letter from his
     mother that he knows by heart. “Always be
     yourself.”
     “She must have been a very special woman,
     your mother.”
     “No, she was just me mum.”
     Aural bridge to next shot
45   “I Love to Boogie.”
     _____________________: Billy and Mrs W
     dance // Tony moving to same music // Dad in
     bathroom // Nana does ballet steps
46   EXT. DAY
     same music as Billy walks home
47   INT. DAY
     Billy starts on Grandma’s tea.

48   INT. BEDROOM
     Early morning – 4 a.m.
     Tony is going out – with a hammer. Dad tries
     to stop him but cannot. Violence explodes.
49   INT. DAY - HALL
     Lesson – Billy having trouble; fight with Mrs
     W; he screams her inadequacies at her, she
     slaps him and they (briefly) comfort each
     other.
     He continues his lesson.
     8. A Ghost Story
50   EXT. DAY - ROAD
     Billy in Mrs W’s car, they cross the river on
     ferry; she tells him the story of Swan Lake.

51   INT. HOME
     Nana wakes up frightened; Billy sees his
     mother in memory =
     __________________________

52   INT. DAY – HALL
     another lesson
53   Debbie chats - the audition is next day; she
     makes an advance; Billy not interested
     9. Tony’s Arrival
54   EXT. STREET - DAY
     The police advance with riot shields; they
     pursue the strikers; Tony is identified as “the
     union leader” and chased through houses
     until he is eventually caught, trapped in



                                                        21
     sheets off a clothesline and beaten bloody.

55   INT. HOME - NIGHT
     Billy surreptitiously on the phone to Mrs W
     but Debbie answers it and hangs up.

56   Billy with Tony at court // Mrs W waiting at
     hall // in car // Mrs W looking for Billy’s home
     //
     10. The Chance to Dance
57   EXT.
     as she walks back to car, she meets Billy with
     Dad and Tony
58   INT. HOME -DAY
     Tony takes charge – refuses to hear the idea
     that Billy should learn ballet. “I don’t want a
     childhood. I want to be a ballet dancer.”
     Tony tries to make Billy dance on the table.

59   INT./ EXT.
     ______________________________: Mrs W
     and Tony yelling at each other with Billy on
     the table // and Billy – later - dancing against
     brick wall and in toilet and on roof etc –
     watched by Michael and by Tony (through
     window) and little girl.
     The sound of the argument disappears as
     Billy tunes out & the music gets louder.
60   EXT.
     Michael calls him and he runs into a scene of
     snowflakes – it’s Christmas
     11. Christmas
61   INT.
     Miners celebrate Xmas
62   EXT. DAY
     Dad is chopping up the piano; Billy watches
63   INT. DAY
     Inpoint: __________________; the wood is
     for the fire – they needed the firewood; Dad
     weeps//

64   EXT. NIGHT
     Billy and Michael make a snowman; Michael
     warms Billy’s hands, kisses him

     12. A Dance of Defiance
65   INT. HALL - NIGHT
     Billy gives Michael a tutu and teaches him the
     basic positions. Jacky is summoned; Billy
     dances. Jacky speechless.

     13. Dad’s Decision
66   EXT. NIGHT
     Dad visits Mrs W; aural bridge to next scene
67   INT. NIGHT
     Billy lies awake in bed; Dad comes in but
     cannot say anything.
68   EXT. MINE - DAY
     To get the money to take Billy to London,
     Jacky decides to go back to work. Tony sees
     him in the bus and climbs the fence to stop
     him.



                                                        22
     “We’re finished. Let’s give the boy a chance.”
69   EXT. NIGHT
     Inpoint = _____________________; Tony
     shows support for once: “Dad’s right. Mum
     would have let you.”
70   INT./ EXT
     Fund-raising for Billy; Jacky pawns his wife’s
     jewellery.
71   INT. BUS - DAY
     On bus to London, Dad reveals he has never
     been further from home than Durham.

     14. The Audition
72   EXT. DAY

     _____________________________ shot of
     Royal Ballet School; L.S. of Billy and Dad

73   INT. FOYER - DAY
     ________________ of them from the
     staircase – beautiful sweeping curves. Billy
     looks around in wonderment, awe;
     ___________ of dome.

74   INT. DAY
     Other boy friendly but confident; mentions
     Durham cathedral
75   Medical examination; Billy has “changed me
     mind.”

76   INT.
     the audition//Dad waits on tenterhooks // Billy
     dances – rather ungainly but energetic //

77   INT. CHANGE ROOM - DAY
     Billy feels humiliated; the other boy tries to
     comfort Billy who takes umbrage and hits
     him. Billy sits with Dad//

     15. The Interview
78   INT. AUDI-TION ROOM
     Billy and Jacky sitting this time in front of
     panel; Billy is inarticulate faced with
     questions.
     Then asked how it feels when he dances, he
     replies, “I sort of disappear. Like I feel a
     change in me whole body. Like there’s a fire
     in me body. I’m just there… flying… like a
     bird. Like electricity. Yeah... like electricity.”


    the “third act” has built up to this climax, but Billy knows his audition did not go well, so the audience is
     set up for a disappointment; there is no certainly at this stage of a happy ending
    the miners are still on strike and no resolution seems likely




                                                                                                                     23
                                       Close Reading – final scenes

When examining the conclusion, consider whether it
  is a satisfactory resolution for the film as a whole
  has tied up all loose ends (assuming that that is necessary)
  has visual and/or verbal connections to the start
  is believable and satisfying


A satisfactory resolution?

    The strike is over – but not in a satisfactory way; what has happened to the village in the 15 years
     between then and the epilogue is ignored. But then the strike was merely a context, not the central issue
     of the story.
    Billy has realised both his ambition and his talent. He has escaped, but there is no easy suggestion that
     that is a solution to the problems of the town as a whole.
    Mrs W has not escaped, and we assume she is forgotten – as she predicted - since she is not seen in
     the epilogue.
    Michael has also escaped, and like Billy is being “true” to himself.


                                       Close Reading – final scenes

When examining the conclusion, consider whether it
  is a satisfactory resolution for the film as a whole
  has tied up all loose ends (assuming that that is necessary)
  has visual and/or verbal connections to the start
  is believable and satisfying

     16. The Letter
79   INT. KITCHEN - MORN-ING
     Inpoint: ________________________
     _________________________ of waiting unhappily -
     at home// in class (Michael hits Billy with ruler cf.
     27) // postie //in street
     Nana: “I could have been a professional dancer.”

80   INT. KITCHEN - DAY
     Inpoint: _______________________;
     _____________to Tony, Dad, Nana all quickly
     seat themselves around the table// Billy sits down,
     chews lip, taps fingers, looks at them – it isn’t just
     his future at stake here; his reluctance to open it =
     his fear, his certainty of rejection; takes letter into
     his room to open it in privacy - respected // family
     wait – even Tony on tenterhooks //
     _________________: Billy opens // family // Billy
     reads, upset, troubled // Dad // Billy + cushion //
     Dad; all three come ready to comfort him // he’s
     been accepted
81   EXT.
     Jacky runs up into shot framed by houses and
     sea behind – to Miners’ Social Club//
82   INT. HALL
     Jacky bursts in excitedly, to an anticlimax – the
     union caved in and the strike is over, having
     achieved nothing but misery

83   EXT. CEMETERY - DAY
     _________________________ to cemetery
     ______ Dad offers support to Billy: “We’re all
     scared.” A joke and a moment of love and



                                                                                                           24
     laughter between father and son – and one of
     Billy’s wonderful rare smiles.
     ______ Billy and Dad on ground – hug
84   inpoint: _________________________
     ________________ = Mrs W’s counting;
     she comes through and they have a stiff farewell
     scene. “I’ll miss you, Miss.” “No you won’t.”
     Billy looks again through the cage but he is
     outside it now forever.
85   INT. KITCHEN - DAY
     the family is waiting to take him to the bus. Hugs
     his Nana goodbye; she holds him tight and then
     pushes him out.

86   EXT. STREET/ BUS STOP - DAY
     Closes door – symbolic // Dad and Tony dispute
     which of them will carry Billy’s bag// Goodbye to
     the neighbourhood// to little girl // to Michael –
     kisses him// _________ on ____ of Michael,
     looking after him // Tony is only able to say “I’ll
     miss you,” as the bus is leaving. // _____ Billy in
     back of (National) bus //
     _________________ from Tony, Dad in ______,
     getting smaller

87
     ______________________: Dad and Tony into
     miners’ cage – back to depths of pit; Mrs W in
     empty hall// Billy on bus to freedom and his future
     – _______________________ in on his isolation;

     _____________ along bus and shadowy figures
     to Tony and Jacky sitting in an underground
     carriage. Now it is Tony: “We’re gonna be late.”

     17. Billy’s Big Night
88   EXT. NIGHT / INT.
     Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London
     They take their seats; next to them (Billy
     obviously sent him tickets too) is Michael.

89   INT. BACK-STAGE
     A young man walks towards the stage; he is
     dressed and made up as a swan – Billy; he goes
     onstage in a fantastic jeté – and the lights behind
     him

90   __________________ into the sunflowers of the
     opening scene with young Billy bouncing
     __________________ into adult Billy as swan
     __________________ into sunflower wallpaper
     and young Billy and credits.


 A satisfactory resolution?




                                                           25
                                      List of Major Scenes

1.    Billy makes his grandmother her breakfast.
2.    Billy and Tony go to bed.
3.    Morning: Tony off to the picket line; Billy plays on piano.
4.    on the picket line
5.    Billy goes to boxing
6.    He returns the keys and joins the ballet class
7.    Mrs Wilkinson asks him to come again next week.
8.    Billy and Nana visit Mum’s grave.
9.    Debbie tries t o persuade Billy to return to the class.
10.   Billy hides after boxing and joins the class.
11.   Billy hides the ballet shoes under the mattress.
12.   School scenes
13.   Billy steals a library book.
14.   Billy practises at home and in class.
15.   Billy dances in the street.
16.   Dad is told he hasn’t been going to boxing.
17.   The miners confront the police.
18.   Jacky and Tony meet a strike-breaker in the supermarket.
19.   Dad sees Billy in ballet class and orders him out.
20.   Dad forbids him to dance.
21.   Billy visits Mrs Wilkinson and stays to tea.
22.   She drives him home and offers to teach him privately.
23.   Billy visits Michael and finds him in a dress.
24.   Billy’s lesson” “I love to boogie.”
25.   Jacky tries to stop Tony going out with a hammer.
26.   Billy has a fight with Mrs Wilkinson.
27.   Mrs Wilkinson tells Billy the story of Swan Lake.
28.   Debbie chats up Billy but he isn’t interested.
29.   Confrontation between police and strikers; Tony is arrested.
30.   Billy misses his audition; Mrs Wilkinson comes looking for him.
31.   Confrontation between Tony and Mrs Wilkinson.
32.   Billy dances in frustration.
33.   Christmas: Dad chops up the piano for firewood.
34.   Michael kisses Billy, who tells him he isn’t a ‘poof’.
35.   Jacky finds Billy in the hall; Billy dances.
36.   Jacky visits Mrs Wilkinson.
37.   Jacky crosses the picket line; Tony drags him back.
38.   Jacky pawns his wife’s jewellery.
39.   Jacky and Billy go to London for an audition.
40.   Billy is intimidated by the Ballet School and dances badly.
41.   He hits another boy.
42.   He is interviewed by the panel.
43.   They wait for the letter from London
44.   It arrives, Billy opens it – he has been accepted.
45.   Jacky runs to the club with the news – and hears the strike is over.
46.   Dad and Billy visit the cemetery.
47.   Billy says goodbye to Mrs Wilkinson, Nana, to Michael and catches his bus.
48.   15 years later, Tony and Dad arrive in London.
49.   In the theatre, they are seated beside Michael.
50.   Billy dances in Swan Lake.




                                                                                   26
                                                   Setting

It is important for a film to establish itself in time, place and social group very quickly. Mood and atmosphere
are important too.

As you answer the following questions, consider not just what you are told, but HOW it is made
clear. A signifier is any item that signals time or place (or character).
 How many signifiers can you identify that signal time and place?

1.   Where is the movie set? How do we know?
2.   And when is it set? How do we know this?
3.   What is the age group the story is centred on? How do we know this?
4.   What is the socio-economic group? How do we know this?
5.   What signifiers tell us that Mrs Wilkinson and Debbie come from a different social background?
6.   What sort of mood is created at the start? How is this mood created?
7.   How is the mine setting first shown? What is the effect of this?

The Concept of Mise en Scène
A useful and general term for the staging of a film; it includes lighting, costume, props, framing, camera
movement etc. It is often used to describe an approach to filming where the actors, scenery etc tell the story
with the camera recording it. It is characterised by unobtrusive camera work and minimal editing, which is
the approach largely used in making this movie.

 The kitchen in the opening scene. All the things you can see, and the way they are shown to you, are
  part of mise en scène.
  List the details that you can see. What do these details tell us about the people who live there?

 What other rooms/homes/places are we shown?



Impact of the setting

 Read the following description of a mining town, written by D.H. Lawrence about 80 years ago. Is his
  view of the red-brick housing shared by the film-makers? Is some of Jacky and Tony’s aggressiveness
  explained by the way they are forced to live?

The promoter of industry, a hundred years ago, dared to perpetrate the ugliness of my native village. And
still more monstrous, promoters of industry today are scrabbling over the face of England with miles and
square miles of red-brick “homes”, like horrible scabs. And the men inside these little red rat-traps get more
and more helpless, being more and more humiliated, more and more dissatisfied, like trapped rats.




                                                                                                              27
                                         Setting - answers

1. Where is the movie set? How do we know?
   Everington, a mining village in County Durham, North East England; specifically
    Durham is mentioned; Billy tells the panel he is from Everington; it is on the door of the hall.
    it is an enclosed community under extreme threat – the threat of the end of mining, if the
      disintegration of their community.

2. And when is it set? How do we know this?
   During the miners’ strike in 1984-5.
    The presence of the police, the strike posters, shots of the mine, the snippet of radio news.
    Occasional seasonal indicators: blue skies, snow, Christmas etc

3. What is the age group the story is centred on? How do we know this?
   Billy is 11; his brother old enough to have left school (at 15) but looks about 18 or 19; Dad in
   his 40s, Grandma in her 70s.
    Tony tells us that Billy is only 11; he has already been seen in school uniform; he looks 11.

4. What is the socio-economic group? How do we know this?
   Coal miners. Not badly paid normally – Billy’s mother has a piano, and her pawned jewellery
   earns enough to get them to London - but the strike has meant no wages coming in and this
   has hit the family hard.
    The references above, the type of home they live in.
   Billy's circumstances are signalled with quiet economy. When his dad smashes his late
   mother's piano with an axe, we assume this is yet another act of aggression. But then we see
   the piano hammers burning as firewood. The gulf of class and culture which Billy will have to
   cross if he is accepted at the Royal Ballet School is never discussed; yet we only have to see
   Billy and his father cowed by the school's neo-classical interior to feel (wrongly) that Billy will
   never join this world.

5. What signifiers tell us Mrs Wilkinson comes from a different social background?
   She has a car; Debbie speaks with less of a Geordie accent; their home; they don’t swear.

6. What sort of mood is created at the start? How is this mood created?
   Lively, exhilarated, bouncy.
    the music and Billy’s bouncing. His lively and bright breakfast making technique. Sudden
       change when he discovers his nana is missing.

7. How is the mine setting first shown? What is the effect of this?
   Although we see the picket lines, the buses and the police presence, the first time we see the
   actual mine and the slag heaps is when Jacky goes to sign in. It is dreary and depressing – all
   grey, no green.

Mise en Scène

 The kitchen in the opening scene. List the details that you can see. What do these
  details tell us about the people who live there?
      yellow sliding doors, strongly patterned wallpaper
      clothes hanging inside to dry + peg bag
      formica-topped table with sauce bottle, teapot
      bottle of beer on the mantelpiece, the iron etc
      general clutter

All of these things are instantly noted without necessarily being looked at specifically – but they are
important because you would notice if something were out of place. They tell us that this is a
male-run house, not too well off, working class etc




                                                                                                     28
 Select a specific setting and list the signifiers that create the setting.

The Village
is built on a hill, near the coast; it has a village green, a cemetery but is dominated by the looming

presence of the pit. The terraced houses are red brick, (i.e. joined together, so each house shares

its walls with its neighbours), popularly known as two-up, two-downs (see below)

It is occupied by paramilitary riot police, whose presence is pervasive. The coal miners, left

isolated by the union bureaucracy, have only their spirit and their fists. That boxing is a male

tradition in this community is not an accident.



His Home:
A two-up, two-down red brick terraced house with an outside toilet. With two bedrooms upstairs
and two rooms (kitchen and front room) down – and four people living there, Billy has to share with
Tony, and Grandma sleeps in the front room, leaving them the kitchen to live in. They still use the
front room sometimes; the piano is there, and a couple of scenes show her lying in bed watching
what is going on. All very cramped.
Drab 70’s wallpaper, mustard-yellow door-frames and sliding doors. There is a radio but there
seems to be no TV.

                                              The Mine
“We didn't realize how hard it would be to find working pits [mines]. We had to go all the way to
Lynemouth and Ellington to look for them, but luckily we managed to secure the last remaining
mine in the North East and didn't have to rely on recreating the pits through the wizardry of
computer technology,” explains producer Jon Finn. (It closed a few weeks after filming finished.)
Vast area of grey, damp and dreary slag heaps and machinery. A cage to take the men
underground.
The great chimneys loom over the town. Tall wire fences, locked gates, puddles on the ground.

Mrs Wilkinson’s House
In a much more up-market area – separate and more expensive houses, neat lawns, cars in
drives, front gardens etc. Inside is much more spacious, the décor is more ‘tasteful’, more
expensive looking. Debbie has her own room.




                                                                                                     29
                                                 Social Class


      In the production notes, screenwriter Lee Hall explains the source of some of the film's emotional bite.
For him the miners strike “was a class war where the state was mobilised against a small group of people. It
left me with a sense of indignation which has fuelled much of my work.”
      The difficulties in setting up location shooting for the film are indicative of the harsh post-strike reality.
“We didn't realize how hard it would be to find working pits [mines]. We had to go all the way to Lynemouth
and Ellington to look for them, but luckily we managed to secure the last remaining mine in the North East
and didn't have to rely on recreating the pits through the wizardry of computer technology,” explains producer
Jon Finn. (It closed a few weeks after filming finished.)
      The ultimate failure of the struggle is implied in the clashes between police and strikers. The faceless,
inanimate riot police are far more imposing and formidable than the passionate workers.

      However, the story does not focus on this clash, merely uses it as a background against which Billy’s
personal struggle takes place. Implicit in this struggle – and articulated by Tony in his confrontation with Mrs
Wilkinson - is that ballet is both an escape route out of this limiting world and also a betrayal of his class:
“What are you trying to do – make him a scab for the rest of his life?”
      To begin with Billy tries to fit into the world of his father and brother. He persists at boxing even though
he is hopeless and his heart is not in it, and when Tony is arrested, his automatic loyalty is to his brother.
Earlier, we see him try to warn Tony that he is running into the police presence.
      That his father’s world is limiting is articulated by Mrs Wilkinson in a stereotypical way: “He won’t grow
up to race whippets, grow leeks or piss his wages up the wall.”
      The gulf of class and culture that Billy will have to cross if he is accepted at the Royal Ballet School is
never discussed; yet we only have to see Billy and his father cowed by the school's neo-classical interior to
feel (wrongly) that Billy will never join this world.
      Billy sets out to cross the great class divide; his training as a dancer is only possible in an institution and
among people of an alien social layer. His great artistic talent proves capable of bridging the gap. The film
ends attempting to dramatise the transcendental power of art.

     Although Tony sees the middle class as the enemy, the film does suggest that not all is wonderful
behind the tidy front gardens. Mrs Wilkinson is not much better off than the Elliots; her husband is out of
work, drinks too much and they sleep in separate beds.


 List some of the ways in which class is shown to be a limiter of personal growth.




                                                                                                                  30
                                              Motifs and Symbols
A motif is an image/idea/word that is repeated several times in a particular work. It is a unifying device. A symbol is an
image/idea/word that represents something else, other than itself. Symbols may have universal significance – e.g. the
Christian cross – or meaning only in the work in which they are used.

 List the motifs and symbols that you noticed as you watched the film.
 Which are motifs? and which symbols? and which both?
 Explain the meaning and significance of each symbol.

shoes & feet and gloves
  seen frequently – dancing and otherwise
  the ballet shoes come to symbolise to Billy his love of dance, his opportunity
  the gloves belonged to Billy’s grandfather = the old male tradition he must escape

The piano
  Belonged to Billy’s Mum so to him symbolises her and the chances she would have offered him: Our
   Mum would have let us.”
  he tries to play it but hasn’t the skill
  when it is chopped up for firewood, Jacky cries (for the first time?)

Cages
  in the hall: Jacky watches thorough the cage,
  the boxing ring is a sort of a cage
  Billy dances within the tight confines of the red-brick backyard, the corrugated iron fence
  the miners go back to work in a cage
   Billy watches the ballet girls at the end from the other side – he is now outside
Symbolic of the society Billy is part of, and that will confine him if he does not get away from it.

Mirrors
Mirrors are traditional symbols of identity, helping us to see ourselves.
   Ballet is usually practised with mirrors so dancers can see what they are doing.
   Billy practises in front of the bathroom mirror
   There is a lovely moment when he catches sight of himself in the mirror in the school changing room and
    immediately holds himself like a dancer.

Swans
  the wallpaper at the Wilkinsons’
  the feathers in pillow fight
  the story of Swan Lake
  Billy dances it at the end




                                                                                                                        31
the little girl in blue
 Symbolic of the average child of the area – seems to do nothing but look at life. Represents what Billy is
    escaping from.

Police and police vans
   constant presence – children take them for granted, ignore them
   never shown in close up unless hidden by shields and riot gear = threatening and not comforting image
“The police get quite a hard ride. In most outdoor scenes you'll notice they're there and their presence builds up until the
big set piece where the village is under siege. It's true we don't go into the detail of the politics of the strike; that would
be a different film. This is all seen from a kid's point of view. The starting point was a famous photograph of riot police
with their shields and two little kids coming back from school just walking in front of them - we used the image in the film.
You get a juxtaposition between the harsh reality of the strike and the kids' own world.” (Director Stephen Daldry)




                                                               1
                                            Use of Parallel and Contrast

Film-makers, like writers. use parallels and contrasts to make their thematic points, to facilitate
characterisation and for visual and thematic unity.

 Identify examples of parallels and contrasts in this film. Explain what effects are achieved.


Some answers:

   boxing v ballet
    pretty obvious and not too subtle – ballet is artistic, graceful, disciplined; boxing is brutal and ugly. The
    film is not interested in a balanced view (if there is one); Billy is clumsy and out of his depth in the ring;
    he is powerful and proud when he dances.

   houses and buildings
    the Elliot home v. the Wilkinson house
    the Elliot neighbourhood v. the Wilkinson one
    [see notes in setting]
    the neo-classical grandeur of the Royal Ballet School v. the Everington hall & the mine buildings

   Police v strikers
    = a crude ballet of social grievance to which Billy’s answer is a ballet of a more liberating kind
    the discipline, the silent menace, the uniforms and shields and batons v. the undisciplined and angry shouting, the casual clothes

    the running strikers v. the advancing police, the police on horseback
    armed v. unarmed
    the support of the people in the houses v. the police knocking over the innocent bystanders
    the white sheets – then stained with blood

   the clean bus taking Billy to London v. the caged and egg-covered strike-breaker bus

   Mrs W v. Jacky
    she has no emotional commitment in Billy but wants to see his talent realised
    he loves his son but can’t see past his prejudices and social expectations

   Billy v. Michael
    The assumption that ballet dancers are homosexual is given an ironic twist:
    it is Michael who is, not Billy
    Michael hankers after a tutu; Billy not interested – he just wants to dance
    both basically gentle boys

   Billy v. Tony




                                                                  2
                                   Characterisation Techniques: check-list

Characters in literature are created by the writer’s pen and the reader’s imagination. Characterisation in film depends on
the script, the casting, the actor’s interpretation, the director’s interpretation, costume, makeup, light, sound, music and
camera angle. Any one of these things can affect our response to the character.

                                                  The Screenplay
As with fiction, many of the significant qualities of the characters are designated in the writer’s instructions:
what they are to say and do, how to react and respond, what others say about them.
 Expressing a character’s thoughts is easier in fiction than on film. What techniques do film-makers have
    to do this? Does this film include any of those techniques?

                                                     The Casting
Casting is a very important aspect of making a successful film. If the actors are miscast – which happens all
too often – then no matter how good everything else is the movie will not succeed.
 How well do you think this film was cast? How well acted?
 Both Jamie Bell (Billy) and Julie Walters (Mrs Wilkinson) won acting awards for this film. Do you think
    they deserved them? Did anyone else?

The Acting
Good actors can show a character’s inner life though their facial expression and body language.
 Look for examples of this.

                 Use of Light, Sound, Music, Cinematography, Camera Angles
Characterisation is helped considerably by these cinematic techniques – though they leave little for us to do
but respond.
 Look particularly for the use of high angle and low angle shots to suggest power, threat, vulnerability etc.
    Look for the way light and music especially are used to increase our sympathy for or identification with a
    character.

                                                  Use of Costume
Costume is a useful shortcut in drama and film, to give us an immediate idea of how we are supposed to see
characters.
  How has costume been used to assist characterisation?

Introducing Characters
 Look carefully at the way each character is introduced. Our responses to them will develop from this
    initial introduction. How does the director want us to respond? What techniques are used to create this
    response?
 For each of the main characters, answer each of the following questions:
     Where is the character when we first see them? What camera shots are used?
     What does their costume, hair, makeup tell us?
     What are they doing? saying?
     Is contrast with other characters established?

Developing Character
 As the film progresses, measure each character against your first impressions.
 Do subsequent events reinforce or contrast with the first impressions? Do we learn more?
 Does the character change and develop or stay the same?
 Look especially for character-defining moments – scenes that help us to understand characters.
 Consider also the role, the function each character has in the narrative.
  What do they contribute to the story that is being told?




                                                             3
                                        Characterisation Tasks

Individual work or group work. Several different approaches are suggested.

Character Poster
 Allocate a character to each group (of no more than four) or student.
             Create a poster to illustrate the character’s personality and qualities.
             Include quotations, descriptions, details of actions etc.
             Present and explain the poster to the class as an oral exercise. [optional]
    [You may wish to get pictures from Internet sites – try IMDb.com]


Character chart:
 Class to suggest character traits and then students find supporting evidence:
  Set out as a chart, e.g.:

                                                     Billy
trait                        how he shows this
courageous
stubborn                     defies his father’s order to give up

loving                       his kindness to his Nana
                                                                                                           etc


Character Diagram
 as above but set out in diagrammatic form:

          quality/personality trait             evidence, i.e. how we know

                 stubbornness                 
Billy            courage                      
                                              
And so on …


Parallels and contrasts
Like many books and films, characterisation is strengthened by highlighting the similarities and differences
between characters and groups of characters.

 identify pairs of characters that are similar and/or different. Head up each of two columns with their
  names and underneath, list the ways they are similar and different. E.g.

Billy                                 Michael                             evidence
11 years old                          same age                            in the same class at school



Character Signifiers
Short-cuts to character. Useful for minor or flat characters. A policeman’s helmet is an obvious signifier;
Grandma in her nightie outside signifies her fragile mental state.
 Identify examples of character signifiers.




                                                        4
                                     Understanding the Characters

 What do the following actions tell us about the characters in the film?

                                                      Billy
31. Cutting the grass on his mum’s grave with a pair of scissors; that he knows his mother’s letter off by
    heart.
32. His sweetness to and care for his grandmother.
33. The way he lies to Tony and his father.
34. His reactions to Michael’s dressing up, his kiss.
35. The pillow fight with Debbie.
36. His rejection of Debbie.
37. His ‘tantrum’ at Mrs Wilkinson.
38. His ‘dance of defiance’ to his father.
39. Hitting the boy at the audition.
40. That he doesn’t know about Durham’s “famous cathedral”, that he’s never been to Durham?

                                                     Jacky
41.   Closing the piano on Billy’s hands.
42.   The way he lashes out at Billy, thrusting him against the wall.
43.   The way he shouts at Nana.
44.   His futile attempt to stop Tony going out.
45.   His decision to break the strike, to go back to work.
46.   That he has never been to London.
47.   When asked if he likes ballet – which he doesn’t - he responds, “I wouldn’t exactly say I’m an expert.”

                                                     Tony
48. The way he treats Billy – swearing at him, thumping him etc.
49. Going out with a hammer at night.
50. His abuse of Mrs Wilkinson and his insistence that his brother is not going to do ballet.

     Think about the character as a whole.

                                                     Jacky
51. Is he a good father? What makes you decide this?

                                                     Tony
52. Is he the sort of brother you would like to have? Why/why not? Is there any incident that suggests he
    cares about Billy?

                                                Mrs Wilkinson
53. Is she a good teacher? What makes you decide this?
54. Why does she offer to teach Billy for nothing?
55. What do we learn about her home life? Who from? Is it reliable?

 What is the importance of the episode on the kitchen, with Billy on the table and the other three
  screaming at one another around him?

 “They are all wounded in one way or another.” How is this true of the main characters?




                                                        5
                                          Character Notes

Billy / Jamie Bell

     The story isn’t new – an individual battling prejudice and a mean background to find fulfilment
– but it works in a large part thanks to 13-year-old Jamie Bell’s flawless performance as Billy.
Gangly and sandy-haired, he's a knockout dancer who also perfectly conveys an adult-child mix of
mouthy defiance and sensitive introspection. And he has the ability to express his thoughts in his
face that eludes many adult actors.
     Billy’s character is sensitive, tolerant, determined, stubborn, courageous and single-minded.
Like his family, he is fairly inarticulate – his groping attempts to talk to his dad and his brother are
rebuffed by men unable to express any feelings other than anger - but unlike them, he is able to
express his emotions in dance. The unthinking violence of his father and brother and their narrow-
minded view of the world make him lie rather than risk confrontation. When he is forced into
confrontation, he is courageous and stubborn. He is initially afraid that he will be thought a ‘poof’ if
he takes up ballet; he is encouraged by Mrs Wilkinson and Debbie, but the real strength to
challenge the seemingly insurmountable is an intangible feeling coming from deep within his own
being.

Where is the character when we first see him?
Jumping on his bed, into shot (C.U.; B.C.U.); then in the kitchen, making his Nana’s breakfast (MS)
- the music is in him, he must respond to it. He is responsible for and kind to his grandmother,
fetching her from where she has wandered.
What do his costume, hair, makeup tell us?
Singlet and shiny shorts; sandshoes; short hair = modern times, athletic boy.
Is contrast with other characters established?
With his violent and aggressive brother; Billy is sweet and gentle. Later with Michael, who is the
‘poof’ Jacky and Tony are afraid Billy might be. Grandma – his youth, her age.
Do subsequent events reinforce or contrast with the first impressions? Do we learn more?
There is much more to learn but the first impressions are not contradicted. In every scene with his
Nana he is shown to be affectionate and caring. He shows an uninhibited delight in his body and
in the music that inspires him.
Does the character change and develop or stay the same?
He develops confidence in himself and what he can do. He is stubborn and single-minded. He is
loving and yet driven to fulfil the need to dance.
Look especially for character-defining moments.
There are many but his dance of defiance to his father is one of the most significant. It not only
tells us and his dad that dancing is what he is about, it also defeats his father’s fears and prejudice.
    “We decided the key point was that the kid has to find a language of self-expression so we used
    bits of his world - boxing, football, and so on - in the dance. And there's an emotional logic to it
    - in the scene where his dad discovers Billy in the boxing hall and the kid dances for him, for
    instance, it's actually a conversation, Billy is talking to his father through his dance. It was
    dance as action rather than as aesthetics; dance as conversation rather than as abstract; the
    kid expressing himself rather than the brilliance of the finished product.” (Director)
Other character-defining moments include his lovely tenderness to his grandmother, the scene with
Mrs Wilkinson in the car, and when he shows her his mother’s letter; his responses to Michael and
Debbie’s approaches; and his fumbling attempts to explain how dancing makes him feel.

Some critics’ comments:
Billy is who he is not despite his environment, but somehow because of it. Where the film really
takes off, however, is in its exploration of family dynamics and the mysteries of the male psyche.
Billy rejects conventional gender expectations because it simply doesn't occur to him to do
otherwise. He's as stoically unfazed by his father's jabs to his masculinity as he is by a young
male playmate's hopeful romantic interest. And he's easy enough in his own identity to love the
dance, to tenderly attend to his ailing grandmother, to miss his dead mother, to listen to T. Rex and
to never imagine that his actions make him less of a man. As a boxer, Billy is a gawky runt,
taunted by his coach that the sport is "man-to-man combat, not a bloody tea dance." But in the



                                                   6
ballet, his instructor tosses him a pair of slippers and dares him to put them on, and Billy intuitively
understands that the old rules of what's girly and what's manly no longer apply.

But the best thing Billy Elliot has going for it is its star. Jamie Bell ricochets skilfully between being
a vulnerable child and a defiant adolescent, sometimes in the space of a moment. He's an eager-
to-please boy, an elegant hoofer, a furious, frustrated youth trying to dance his demons right out
through the soles of his feet. It's a breakthrough performance, one that captures the character’s
blossoming with radiant charm.

Bell, who was 12 when this film was made, is a phenomenon. His presence is pensive, even
grave, and he catches that moment when boyish curiosity turns into action. A lot of Billy's
emotions, at first, are under the surface. His mother has died. His father, already angry with grief,
is on strike. When the boy is drawn from the boxing ring on one side of a recreational hall to a
dancing class on the other, he doesn't understand why, he just is.


Jacky Elliot - Dad / Gary Lewis

The film is as much Jacky’s story as Billy’s. His is the most complex character written, and the one
that comes furthest, grows the most. A quick-tempered man, embittered and deflated by the
experience of the dispute, Billy's father is overwhelmed, traumatized by the loss of his wife and the
monetary repercussions of the strike. He is proud and independent; he rejects Mrs W’s offer of the
fare to go to London. He is very conservative, a great traditionalist – he gives his father’s boxing
gloves to Billy to use.
Narrow-minded at first, but it is because he is a product of his environment. He eventually comes
around and realises the opportunity ballet offers Billy for a better life than he had, and thus proves
his worth as a man and a father.
The skinny little boy's supreme self-assurance has a ripple effect on his family. As Billy's dad
gains respect for his son's gift and holds his family together through the strike, he learns the
difference between toughness and true strength. He maintains a convincing mix of grit and grace.

Where is the character when we first see him?
At home in the morning; Tony is leaving for the picket line, but Jacky isn’t ready – suggests a lack
of enthusiasm, lack of commitment. He expresses his belief to Tony that they are wasting their
time; Tony is still confident. He is raw with grief over losing his wife; his response to Billy is to
refuse to talk about it.
Is contrast with other characters established?
Mostly with Tony, tough briefly with Mr Wilkinson who is bitter; Jacky is more defeated.
Do subsequent events reinforce or contrast with the first impressions? Do we learn more?
He wants to be proud of his son but is frustrated by Billy’s failure at the sport Jacky and his father
both did – boxing. He is afraid of Billy’s need to dance, seeing it as unmasculine.
Does the character change and develop or stay the same?
His love for his son overcomes his prejudices. He is forced by Billy to see past bigotry and
recognise drive and talent. His love for his son proves stronger in the end.
Look especially for character-defining moments.
His confrontation with Tony when he tries to stop him going out and cannot. Similarly, in the
confrontation with Mrs W, he lets Tony take control. He is a defeated man.
His decision to go back to work – though this is more a symbolic action than a realistic one; in
reality, a man like Jacky would never have done this.
# Look at the way Gary Lewis holds himself and walks – he expresses so much in his stance.




                                                    7
Mrs Wilkinson / Julie Walters

“a disappointed woman who carries her cigarette like a weapon”
 Where is the character when we first see her? What do her costume, hair, makeup tell us?
Taking the ballet class. She looks blowsy, tired, ‘disappointed’; she smokes all the time – hardly a
good role model, and her whole manner is jaded and perfunctory, i.e. she goes through the
motions but no real commitment or enthusiasm. Dyed hair, over-dressed; abrupt and demanding
manner.
Is contrast with other characters established?
Initially, only with the boxing teacher – no significant difference, though she supposed to be ‘middle
class’. The only other woman is Nana, who is too old and senile to do anything to help Billy, so
Mrs W becomes a sort of surrogate mother to him.
Do subsequent events reinforce or contrast with the first impressions? Do we learn more?
She is shown to be warmer, more caring than her initial abrupt exterior suggests, though that is as
much because she finally has some talent to deal with. Although she starts off by demanding the
50p. Billy owes her (we earn later that her husband is out of work, so the 50p. is probably
important) but then she offers to teach Billy for nothing. She is artistically frustrated at teaching
children with no talent. Her tired demeanour transforms itself into enthusiasm and pleasure in the
teaching.
In the confrontation with Tony – when he accuses her of being a “middle class cow” – she gives as
good as she gets, is as rough and aggressive as Tony.
She understands when Billy doesn’t come to tell her that he was accepted for Royal Ballet School
– they helped each other, and then moved on. Her reward has been in teaching someone talented
and seeing him achieve.
Does she change and develop or stay the same?
She is inspired with enthusiasm by Billy’s talent. It gives her a reason for going on; she devotes
every afternoon to teaching him. She invests a great deal of emotional energy in him.
Consider also the role, the function, she has in the narrative.
She is the teacher who is able to make a difference, the one who is able to help a child break out
of their confining environment. She pushes him uncompromisingly to reach his potential.


Tony / Jamie Draven

Billy's brother is violent and aggressive, a union militant in a battle where the leaders are “caving
in.” Art seems irrelevant and ballet a crime against masculinity, already threatened by an
emasculating, hostile world.
Where is the character when we first see him?
 He is in the bedroom he shares with Billy, listening to records – and complaining because Billy has
            obviously scratched one. He swears at Billy and hits him. He is smoking dope.
Is contrast with other characters established?
With Billy and his father. Later, briefly, with his former friend turned scab. He lacks Billy’s
sensitivity and his tolerance; he is as yet, unlike Jacky, undefeated.
Do subsequent events reinforce or contrast with the first impressions? Do we learn more?
The more we see of Tony, the more we see he is angry, aggressive, unable to express any
emotion other than anger. The only affectionate word he ever says to Billy is after Billy is on the
bus – “I’ll miss you.” He is militantly class-conscious – his objection to ballet seems mostly based
on this.
Does the character change and develop or stay the same?
A little change – he comes to accept that Billy should have his chance; he shows much affection
for Jacky when he attempts to go back to work.
Look especially for character-defining moments.
The scene in the supermarket; confronting Mrs W in the kitchen.
Consider also the role, the function each character has in the narrative.
One of the younger generation of miners whose world is disappearing even as he clings to the
traditions and attitudes of the past. He is a hard man, outspoken and aggressive.




                                                  8
He represents what is in store for Billy if he does not escape from this world. Since Billy is much
more sensitive, he would either be crushed or have to harden himself.




                                                  9
                           Understanding the Characters – some answers

Billy
1. Cutting the grass on his mum’s grave; that he knows his mother’s letter off by heart.
    His great love for her, that he misses her terribly; that he was probably closer to her than to his father.

     From what his Nana says, it is from his mother he got his musicality and his love of and talent for dance.

2.   His sweetness to and care for his grandmother.
     He is a loving, gentle, caring boy, with a strong sense of responsibility.

3.   The way he lies to Tony and his father.
     A habit of lying has been established – he automatically lies when Tony asks about the record – so it is

     easy for him to keep going. A more open and tolerant household would not force him into this behaviour

     pattern – there is a strong sense that he would have told his mother.

4.   His reactions to Michael’s dressing up, his kiss.
     He is quite tolerant; he clears the air – “Just because I like to dance, I’m not a poof” – and goes on being

     friends with his friend.

5.    The pillow fight with Debbie.
     In spite of his maturity in many situations, they are both still children.

6.   His rejection of Debbie.
     His insistence to Michael that he is not homosexual is balanced by his rejection of Debbie, which

     suggests he is shy with girls – not surprising, with no sisters, or he is still too young to be interested. Or

     maybe just too single-minded to want to be distracted.

7.   His ‘tantrum’ at Mrs Wilkinson.
     She pushes him hard and he gets overwhelmed by it all. She tends to forget how young he is; he is still

     without any emotional support anywhere, so she is able to give him a little.

8.   His ‘dance of defiance’ to his father.
     The men in this family are unable to communicate in words – Billy has never been encouraged to and

     the others cannot – so it is Billy using the language that expresses his feelings best – his anger, his

     humiliation, his determination.

9.   Hitting the boy at the audition.
     Out of his comfort zone, overwhelmed by the physical environment, feeling humiliated because he thinks

     he did badly, he lashes out in the only way the people around him do – by hitting someone. Even Mrs W

     slapped him when he yelled at her.

10. That he doesn’t know about Durham’s “famous cathedral”, that he’s never been to Durham?
    How limited his life has been – and will remain of he doesn’t escape.




                                                          10
Jacky
11. Closing the piano on Billy’s hands.
    He is raw with grief over the death of his wife but his reaction is to ignore it; Billy brings it out in

    the open. He tells Billy to “Shut it,” and matches his words with action.

12. That he has never been to London.
    A narrow, limited life – too afraid to leave his comfort zone.

13. The way he lashes out at Billy, thrusting him against the wall.
    He cannot get through to Billy and violence is the only way he knows.

14. The way he shouts at Nana.
    Frustration at her unhelpful comments. Yet she is his wife’s mother, not his, and he never

    questions that she still lives with them.

15. His futile attempt to stop Tony.
    He has no longer any control over Tony’s behaviour. Contributes to his sense of being

    useless.

16. His decision to break the strike, to go back to work.
    A measure of how much he loves Billy.

17. When asked if he likes ballet – which he doesn’t - he responds, “I wouldn’t exactly say
    I’m an expert.”
    Typical response when you don’t want to admit total ignorance. He wants to support Billy and

    is afraid to say he knows nothing.


Tony
18. The way he treats Billy – swearing at him, thumping him etc.
    The not uncommon intolerance of an older brother for the nuisance younger one – there is a

    big gap between them – but also the frustration and anger he feels at the strike is taken out on

    everyone around him. Like his father, he is better at expressing anger verbally than anything

    else, but mostly shows his feelings in actions.

19. Going out with a hammer at night.
    Another example of using violent actions because words are not working.

20. His abuse of Mrs Wilkinson and his insistence that his brother is not going to do ballet.
    He attacks her in class terms – she is middle class and therefore the enemy (of course, her
    home life is no more satisfying than his.)

22. Is there any incident that suggests he cares about Billy?
    He supports the fund-raising; he tells Billy he will miss him.




                                                     11
Mrs Wilkinson
24. Why does she offer to teach Billy for nothing?
    She is so pleased to have some talent to work with – makes the rest of it worthwhile.

25. What do we learn about her home life? Who from? Is it reliable?
    Debbie tells Billy that her parents sleep apart, that her father drinks too much, and that her
    mother is “unfulfilled.” Reliable? She lives in the house but children do not always understand
    everything they see. On the other hand, what we are shown of Mrs W suggests it’s pretty
    accurate.


 What is the importance of the episode on the kitchen, with Billy on the table and the
  other three screaming at one another around him?
  They are the people who care most about him – though Tony’s concern is probably more for
  how he himself would look – and they are screaming at one another. All know best what is
  good for Billy – yet all ignore him at this time. Mrs W doesn’t understand it is a bad time; the
  other two cannot see that Billy needs to dance.

 “They are all wounded in one way or another.” How is this true of the main characters?
  Billy is wounded by the loss of his mother, and by the unaffectionate household he is in. His
  Nana loves him but often doesn’t know who he is. His Dad loves him but does not know how
  to show it.
   Jacky is wounded by grief and by hopelessness. Both his sons have slipped from his control.
   His traditional way of life is disappearing.
   Tony is suffering from frustration at the strike; his solution is to hit back but it is ultimately futile,
   as he probably knows deep down. His future seems to offer little.
   Mrs Wilkinson is wounded by disappointment in her life – she perhaps lacked the talent to do
   other than teach talentless children in a small town, and her marriage is obviously not happy.
   Grandma is slipping into Alzheimer’s.
   Michael has the huge hurdle of being gay in a narrow bigoted town – though he is remarkably
   self-assured about it.
   Debbie is hurt by Billy’s rejection of her.




                                                     12
                                                  Themes

 Which do you think are the most significant ideas in this film?

 Explain how the film illustrates these ideas. For each idea, locate the scene and/or character that
  explicitly or implicitly illustrate(s) that theme.

   the rewards of perseverance in following their dreams and not giving up in the face of popular opinion.

   the redemptive power of love in a family under enormous stress and shows a father coming through as a
    parent after some egregious errors.

   the tensions and sorrows of a family dealing with the loss of its wife and mother while the grandmother
    gently sinks into senility. (Billy lovingly takes care of his grandmother.)

   a friendship between two boys survives the fact that one is homosexual and the other is not.

   the far-reaching influence that a dedicated teacher can have on a child's development.

   the sacrifices required of striking union workers and their families, as well as the anguish of a community
    whose way of life is doomed in the face of new economic conditions.



Other Issues Dealt With

[Family] violence:

The family pulls together in the end, but not before violent arguments in which the father, close to breaking
down, throws his son Billy against a wall. The father also hits his older son, an adult, drawing blood in a
futile attempt to stop him from an early morning foray to damage company property. Violent clashes
between the police and striking miners are part of the story. Billy hits another child.


Dishonesty

Billy defies his father and surreptitiously attends dance classes. The father's insistence that Billy box rather
than take ballet restricted the growth and development of his child. Had Billy complied with that instruction
he would have missed his life's calling. In other words, the parent was wrong in such a fundamental way that
the child's disobedience was justified.


Homosexuality

Billy's best friend Michael tries on women's clothing, as the film reveals his nascent homosexuality. The film
accepts Michael's homosexuality without any negative implication. Billy, who is heterosexual, is able to set
boundaries to his relationship with Michael and thereby maintain their friendship. In this way, the film
provides an excellent model for the maintenance of friendships between people who are substantially
different. In addition, the juxtaposition of Billy, who dances and is heterosexual, with Michael, who is
homosexual but does not dance, demonstrates the fallacy of stereotyping the sexual orientations of male
ballet dancers.




                                                      13
                                                  Discussion

Historical Setting

1.      What is the importance of miners’ strike in the film? What was at stake for the miners?
2.      Why is it ironic that Mrs. Wilkinson's husband, who has himself been made "redundant", takes the
        position that the miners should abandon their strike?
3.      What effect does it have on a community when the police are seen as an enemy?

Dance

4.      What is the real basis for Tony and Jacky’s objection to Billy’s dancing? Is it a valid objection?
5.      What are the similarities between dancers and athletes who play football, rugby, basketball or tennis?
        What are the differences?

Education

6.      What would have happened to Billy and what kind of life would he probably have led, if it had not been
         for his teacher, Mrs Wilkinson?
7.      What was Mrs Wilkinson's motivation in teaching ballet class?
8.      Why was Mrs Wilkinson especially interested in teaching ballet to Billy?

Parenting, Father/Son and Families in Crisis

9.       Evaluate Billy's father as a parent. What did he do well and what did he do poorly?
10.      What should happen to parents who commit serious errors as Billy's father did?
11.      During the course of the movie, Billy's family endures several crises and conflicts. Describe them
         and describe how the family dealt with them.
12.      Billy's father made a number of serious mistakes, like throwing Billy against the wall and making it
         hard for him to take ballet lessons. Is he ultimately a good father? Defend your answer.
13.      Billy's family has a lot of problems but they have one big thing going for them. What is it?
14.      The film-makers obviously approved of Billy being required to take care of his grandmother, but was
         it right for a young child to be given those responsibilities? If he didn’t do it, who would? [The film
         glosses over what happens to Nana when Billy is at school.]

Grieving

15.      How does Billy grieve for his mother?
16.      Why does Jacky break down and cry at Christmas?
17.      Why does Billy show his mother's letter to Miss Wilkinson?

Breaking Out

18.      Remember the scenes in which Billy dances against the walls. What do these scenes show? What
         type of literary convention is being used here?




                                                       14
                            A Question of Ethics – Discussion Topics

The film raises many issues of ethics or morality. Discuss in groups or with the whole class.

1.      Our society expects children to obey their parents, but there are times when Billy does not obey his
        father, especially over the ballet lessons. Is Billy right or wrong? Explain.

2.      Rather than lying about going to ballet class, could there have been a better way to handle it? In
        what circumstances are children justified in defying their parents? Describe some situations in which
        a child would be justified in lying to his or her parents. Describe some situations in which a child
        would not be justified in lying to his or her parents.

3.      Does dancing always come easily for Billy?

4.      There are many incidents of violence towards others in this story. List them. Are any of them
        justified? Explain.

5.      The police are usually seen as a force for good in a community; that is where we turn for help,
        protection, law enforcement etc. They are not seen or shown that way in the film. Do the striking
        miners treat the police with respect? Should they? Do the police treat the striking miners with
        respect? Should they?

6.      Remember the scene when Billy "borrows" a library book about ballet while the librarian is distracted
        by a striker mooning the police? What do these two actions have in common and why did the
        screenwriter juxtapose these two scenes?

7.      When Billy takes the library book, it is stealing. Isn’t it? Was there an alternative course of action
        Billy could have taken that would not be dishonest?

8.      Why does Jacky try to stop Tony going out to destroy company property?

9.      Why is it so difficult for Jacky to cross the picket line? Is he being disloyal to his class, his union and
        his fellow workers? What other moral values is he responding to?




                                                        15
                            Extension: Discussion or Writing Topics

1.    Billy is asked what it feels like when he dances. He replies:

       "It sort of feels good. It starts stiff and that but once I get going, then I like forget everything and I
       sort of disappear. Like I feel a change in my whole body - like there's fire in my body. I'm just there -
       flyin' like a bird - like electricity, - yeah, like electricity."

      Do you get that type of a feeling from anything that you do?

2.     There was a case fairly recently where a teenage boy (now with the NZ Ballet) was forced to shift
       from a boys’ school to a co-ed to escape the persecution and bullying that resulted from the fact that
       he danced.
       Do you think this would be likely to happen at your school?

3.     For boys: If you wanted to be a ballet dancer, how do you think your schoolmates would react?
       Would that reaction be justified? Would you have the courage to tell your friends at school that you
       were dancing?

       For girls: It is much easier now for girls to do ‘male things’ – in sport anyway. But are there any
       areas – jobs perhaps – that are still difficult for girls to go into? How far would you be prepared to go
       to be allowed to do this?
       Do you think boys/men who do traditionally women’s activities – ballet, nursing etc - are less
       masculine? Would you go out with a ballet dancer?


Friendship/Sexual Orientation

4.     Should Billy have maintained his friendship with Michael after he realized that Michael was
       homosexual? Can straight men and gays be friends?
5.     Billy was able to set boundaries to his relationship with Michael that permitted them to be friends but
       stopped at any sexual relationship between them. Describe the scenes in which this occurred. Do
       you have relationships in which boundaries are set by you or by someone else? Can you describe
       the relationship, what the boundaries are, and how they have been set?
6.     Do you have friends that are very different from you in some ways? What is the basis for these
       friendships?
7.     When Billy left for ballet school and said goodbye to Michael, he kissed Michael on the cheek. What
       was Billy saying to Michael by that action?
8.     Are all male ballet dancers gay?

Breaking Away

9.     Describe some situations that you have heard about in your own life in which people have broken
       away from the expectations that their parents, family and community had of them and have done
       something unexpected with their lives.




                                                      16

				
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