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The two films under analysis in this essay are Billy Elliott (Stephen Daldrey, 2000) and The Full Monty (Peter Catenao, 1997), which have politically and sociologically common themes. Both films deal with northern British industrial crises and how the subsequent effects impact on the affected communities.
Billy Elliott is set in County Durham and deals with the 1984/85 miners strike, while The Full Monty is about Sheffield and the effects modernisation and mechanisation of the steel industry have on employment within local communities and both films explore how individuals and communities cope with their varying predicaments.
The family in Billy Elliott have their own personal crisis in that Billy's mother has died, leaving his father, who is on strike, struggling to provide for the family consisting of eleven year old Billy, his teenage brother Tony and their elderly grandmother who suffers from dementia.
The story of Billy and his dream of becoming a ballet dancer despite the attitudes and prejudices of family and community is played out against this background.
Gaz in The Full Monty, a redundant ex-steelworker, on the other hand, is trying to cope with the effects of a broken marriage and his fractured relationship with his young son with whom he is desperate to keep in contact. His wife is in another relationship and is living an affluent lifestyle. Gaz has the constant worry of not having enough money to pay his wife child support and she threatens that if he doesn't pay she will stop him from seeing his child.
In Billy Elliott, Billy's brother and father deal with the catastrophic events in their lives in different ways. Billy's brother Tony's anger, frustration and pain are all externalised. He exhibits this by; openly aggressive behaviour towards police on riot squad duties, challenging his father's authority within the family as well as behaving antagonistically and yelling "scab" at his former best friend who has returned to work. Tony belligerently bellows "First rule of union, you never cross a picket line. We're all fucked up if you forget that. " His former friend sums up the reality of the time by replying "We're all fucked up anyway."
Billy's father's emotions, however, are more internalised and his attitude more pragmatic, although when he does speak he uses short, sharp phrases for example "get to bed" or "shut the fuck up and do as you are told. " Billy's grandmother, in spite of her dementia, seems to have an quiet awareness of what is happening and readily accepts the fact that Billy has aspirations to become a ballet dancer without reservation, unlike his father who at first displays what could be argued as a stereotypically northern working class attitude by saying ballet is:" for girls, not for lads.Lads do football, boxing or wrestling, not frigging ballet. "
The father sees male ballet dancers as 'soft' and effeminate and it's as though it would reflect on him poorly in the eyes of his community if he allowed or encouraged his son to become a dancer instead of joining his fellows down the mine. It's as though culture is an anathema to the working class, a betrayal of working class roots and somehow not as honest as the hard labour in the mines but instead frivolous and trivial and more suited to the middle classes. Tony echoes this view when he rounds on Billy's dance teacher Mrs.Wilkinson with: "Do you realise what we're going through.
You, filling his head with all this dance rubbish, you middle-class bitch. " The expectation for Billy is that he will follow in his father and brother's footsteps and go into mining. This at a time when the mining industry was in crisis and subsequently became almost none- existent. During 1984 the relationship between the National Union of Mineworkers, led by Arthur Scargill, and the incumbent Conservative Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, reached an all time low.
Both sides became intransigent and Margaret Thatcher speaking to a group of backbenchers referred to the miners as: "the enemy within" ....... "which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty," in which she compares the fight against the miners with the recent war in the Falklands. The situation between miners and government had begun in 1979 when the miners had rejected a 20% pay rise. Two years on the Coal Board announced major pit closures which resulted in spontaneous strikes at pits up and down the country.
On this occasion the government gave way but began planning for the day when strike action became more national and organised. That day arrived on the twelfth of March 1984 when the miners went on strike over proposed pit closures. During this time the mining communities and the police deployed to strike break and stop secondary picketing became locked in a sometimes vicious struggle. In Billy Elliott we see ranks of police in riot gear forming living barriers between striking miners, who push and shove against them, the miners throwing screaming abuse at their former comrades who are still continuing to work.
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