That Championship Season

The Contender rocks, Billy Elliot jetes

"From the producers of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill . . ." This is a recommendation? Billy Elliotcomes equipped with the emotional string-pulling that gave both those films their dishonest reek; it's about a motherless English village lad who dances his way out of poverty and grief to the stars. Yet, as written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry (the latest in a seeming army of British theater wizards making the leap to film) with an imaginative economy of style, the movie escapes the blueprint into a winning entertainment with a serious political edge. That it does so is due in large measure to the rough, reticent charm of Jamie Bell as the sensitive boy who, after stumbling into a ballet class at the local gym, hangs up his hated boxing gloves and takes private classes with the teacher (Julie Walters), a disappointed woman who channels her own thwarted ambition into a drive to send Billy to the Royal Ballet School over strenuous opposition from his angry widowed father (Gary Lewis).

Set in northern England during a desperate episode in British class history—the 1984 miners' strike against Margaret Thatcher's pit closures—Billy Elliot is cut from the cloth of the new British working-class film. Like The Full Monty, it's worlds away from the glum pessimism of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, or anything by Ken Loach or Mike Leigh. Though it pays its sad respects to Thatcher's legendary demolition of the traditional working class, at its core, Billy Elliot is good, colorful fun, and by virtue of its emphasis on escape through individual initiative rather than class solidarity, more likely to succeed with American audiences than any film by Loach. (Leigh got with the program in Secrets & Lies and Topsy-Turvy.) I liked Billy Elliot, but Ihardly know whether to be pleased or sorry that the movie, quite aside from its transatlantic ambitions, will likely be as much of a smash as The Full Monty among the go-getters of the brash New Britain designed by Thatcher and decorated by Tony Blair.

The contender was Written and directed by Rod lurie; Produced by marc frydman, douglas urbanski, willi baer and james spies; and stars joan allen, William Petersen, Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman. Now playing countywide; Billy elliot was directed by stephen daldry; written by lee hall; produced by greg breman and jon finn; and starS jamie bell, Julie Walters and Gary Lewis. Now playing at edwards south coast village, santa ana.

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