You would have to have a heart of stone, or feet of lead, not to be moved by this heartwarming British movie about an 11-year-old boy (Bell) who has gotta dance. The title character is a terpsichorean goner from the moment he spots a girls' ballet class across the gym floor from his weekly boxing lesson. Goodbye gloves, hello ballet slippers. Unfortunately for Billy, it's 1984 and in the hardscrabble coal mining town where he lives, it's just assumed his future will be spent wearing work boots.
If that was all there was to the story, Billy Elliot would be merely sweet. But first-time director Stephen Daldry and writer Lee Hall have bigger ambitions, contrasting the freedom Billy finds while dancing with the brutal choreography of clashes between striking miners and police that convulses towns like Billy's—his father and brother, both miners, are involved in a bitter strike—under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's banner of economic reform.
As Billy, Bell has a watchful face that turns joyous when he dances. Also standouts are Walters, as his ballet teacher, and Lewis, each playing characters determined not to let the compromises that have shaped their own lives restrict Billy's. (R)
Bottom Line: Totally charming Billy