This 34-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into twelve sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


Billy’s  World 
(DVD Chapters 1/2: 8 mins) 
Let the film roll until George says “Billy! Punchbag!” 
The film opens with a statement of where and when the action is set: Durham Coalfield, Northeast England, 
1984. Margaret Thatcher is the British Prime Minister and she is locked in conflict with the striking miners’ 
union. A slim, artistic-looking hand takes an LP record from its cover and places it on a turn-table. A 
correction is made as the arm is replaced onto another track. This person seems to know what he wants. 
Dropping the needle on a record like this can cause damage and is not the best way to ensure its long life! 
This is Billy Elliot and he begins to bounce on his bed to the rhythm of T-Rex’s Cosmic Dancer. “I was 
dancing when I was twelve”, sings Marc Bolan. We can clearly see that Billy is bouncing on his mattress, 
but in his mind he has gone to a special place and has a fantasy that he is flying through the air on a 
trampoline. He seems to be using every part of his body as the music and beat fill his mind. His face is 
beaming with pleasure. His arms and legs move suggesting flight and football. A bell signals the call of 
reality and Billy has to leave his trampolining to deal with the affairs of daily life. 
The music plays on, though. He prepares breakfast. His movements are full of rhythm, just like his 
trampolining. Furthermore, he seems to be using every part of his body to get things done, e.g. opening the 
bedroom door with his head! The working class kitchen is crowded and apparently disorganised. Clothes 
hang about the place, drying off and getting aired. As he moves under the bag of clothes pegs he can’t resist 
a movement of the head as in football. He is full of life and energy. Horror fills his face when he sees the 
empty bed.  
All his preparations are forgotten as he hurries to get out of the house to find the missing person. After a 
quick cut we are outside on the street as Billy charges through the back door into the yard.  
Poor Grandma is old and distracted and hardly seems to recognise Billy when he catches up with her. She has 
left the house without bothering to dress for the outside. Billy treats her gently, reminding her of his name, 
and giving her time to re-orientate herself. Obviously this is not the first time he has had to deal with this type 
of situation!  As he leads her away and back to the shelter of their house we see the police gathering on the 
hilltop above them. This police presence will be a recurring feature of Billy’s world as the film develops. No 
matter where he goes we will see the police moving ominously in the background.  
Once again the change of scene is signalled by a sound cue. The grating noise of a flaw on the vinyl sounds 
and we see Tony and Billy in their beds in the dark. This is a shot that will be repeated at various times 
throughout the narrative. We will see the relationship between the brothers develop from being antagonistic 
to caring as Tony sees more clearly how special his little brother is. For the moment, though, all that 
concerns him is the scratch on his T-Rex album. He is listening to the track that Billy had been bouncing to. 
Life is tough for Billy. He has chores and responsibilities beyond his years.  
The sound of a piano ushers in the scene in Billy’s house next morning. Tony is just as abrupt with his father, 
Jackie, as he had been with Billy. He tries to hurry him with impatient talk of the picket line. He rolls up a 
poster that supports the miners’ strike. He asks Billy if he has tidied up their room. As we have noted, the 
action of the film is set in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. The miners are striking for their rights. Tony and 
Jackie are part of the struggle. Jackie enters with a coal skuttle in his hand and says they have not much coal 
left. He can’t cope with Tony’s impetuosity and does not share his optimism that they will be back in work 
the following month. 
Billy’s slow repetitive tapping of four or five notes on the piano grates on Jackie’s nerves. Billy declares that 
his mother would have let him play without a problem. Jackie reacts violently. This introduces two major 
themes in the film: grieving and violence. Jackie has a lot on his plate. He comes back into the doorway 
almost apologetically to tell Billy that there is fifty pence left for him on the fridge. Billy gets back to his 
piano playing. 
The camera follows Billy’s gaze as he looks up. Family pictures show happy faces, faces from a time when 
all was well. The simple musical theme that Billy plays on the piano, and the instrument itself are being 
associated with the person in the photograph, his absent mother. It is a haunting theme that stays with Billy. 
His eye, his hand and his mind are preoccupied with the keys and the pictures. 
We cut to the miners and their picket-line as the harsh police sirens blare over the repetitive chanting of the 
miners. They are giving abuse to their colleagues who have now become ‘scabs’ by breaking the line and 
going to work in the pits. There is a long tradition of labour struggle in all the mining areas of Britain. In 
1984 the miners faced up to the government of Margaret Thatcher. The camera shows the action from the 
point of view of the miners. The riot police that we noticed earlier on the ridge are here massed in lines to 
face down the strikers. They are dressed in riot gear and have motorised backup. The police will not be 
presented in a favourable light in the course of this film. There will be scenes in which they will be shown as 
foolish and even sub-human. The theme of holding the line, crossing the line, breaking away from the crowd, 
conforming, coming out or staying in the closet, as the saying goes, is being introduced here. This will 
become an important issue for Billy as he finds himself drawn away from the traditions of his father towards 
the ballet. 
In the next scene we see Billy making a visit to the local boxing club, another strong traditional element of 
working class Britain. He stands at the door. His friend, Michael, sits with arms folded, a belligerent look on 
his face, as he speaks foul-mouthedly to Billy about the pointlessness of boxing. A kit-bag to his left might 
suggest that he has decided that he, for one, is going to make a stand against this traditional role imposed on 
the male children of the area. This impression is reinforced by Billy’s first question to him:  “Are you sure 
you’re not coming?” The reference to Billy’s gloves, gone out with the Ark according to Michael, seems to 
consolidate this notion of his resistance. Billy is pushed unceremoniously by other boys as they hurry to enter 
the hall and get on with their training. The door here may act as a symbol, a metaphor for conformity and 
non-conformity. Billy has not questioned his attendance at the club. Michael seems to be laying down a 
challenge to him to re-assess his blind acceptance of this rough sport and the roles being laid on him by his 
Many narratives follow the pattern: establishment of an order; disruption of that order;  attempts at 
re-establishing order; restoration of order. The exposition of the narrative of this film has been completed. 
Now we have a disruption that will act as an engine, as it were, that will drive the plot forward. George, the 
boxing coach, announces loudly that the ballet school is going to share the hall with the boys because it has 
been displaced to make way for a soup-kitchen to help out in the miners’ struggle. This community has a 
sense of caring for all. George warns that he wants no “hanky-panky”. This is a disruption of the feminine 
into his macho world but the greater good calls for compromise and sacrifice! 
One little girl seems to take an interest in the boys boxing. She is Debbie, the daughter of Mrs Wilkinson, the 
ballet teacher. Just as Billy is ordered into the ring, the piano strikes up. Michael has already let us know that 
Billy is useless at boxing, but that has not prepared us for what follows. Instead of shaping up to his opponent 
as would be expected of any practitioner of this manly sport, Billy starts to weave and feint in time with the 
music! We have seen him at the piano at home and we noticed in the breakfast scene that he had a great sense 
of rhythm. His reaction, while comical, is not altogether surprising, therefore. George is aghast and tries to 
remind Billy that he is in a boxing ring, not at a tea-dance. The punch is filmed from Billy’s point of view 
and he is stunned by it. As Jackie looks on in disbelief, George roars for a stop to the music and berates Billy 
for his lack of pride in the long tradition that is attached to the club and to his father’s gloves. Then he claims 
his fifty pence. So that’s what Jackie left the money for!  Liberace (d. 1987) was a flamboyant American 
piano player who adopted a gay stage/TV persona. 
So, we have been introduced to a boy whose life is difficult. As well as the household chores that are foisted 
on him, he has  to maintain behaviour that is traditionally seen as part and parcel of being a man in this 
world. There is conflict in Billy’s life between himself and the other members of his family. There is 
conflict on a bigger scale, too, as the miners face up to the government. Michael’s rejection of boxing and 
the introduction of the ballet have added further conflict to Billy’s life.