Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Review | BILLY ELLIOT LIVE (DVD/BluRay) November 2014

Billy Elliot first hit screens in 2000, 14 years on the winner of Best British Independent Film returns to screens but in an entirely different way. In 2005 a musical version of Lee Hall and Stephen Daldry's heart-warming British story hit the West End stage and hasn't looked back. in an incredibly successful 9 years, the production with music by Elton John recently celebrated its 4,000th performance and was streamed live into cinemas across the UK on Sunday 28 September 2014 and subsequently around the world. The DVD release of the broadcast, starring Ruthie Henshall as Mrs Wilkinson is out on 24 November. 

What has previously struck me about stage recordings on film is that live broadcasts can have an underwhelming rawness about them. Often a sense of lack of camera rehearsal, with limited angles while pre-recorded ones are often too cinematic and you loose the staged element. Billy Elliot Live fits perfectly in between and is beautifully captured. When you see the show live, the intimacy of the production is one of the key factors that draws you into 1980's County Durham and ensures you're right there in Billy's world - this is no different. Whilst some would argue that recordings in no way compare to the live event, the draw of these releases is the opportunity to see up close the excellent acting ability, facial expression and precision of dance technique that you just aren't going to get from the back of the stalls... including some stunning areal shots of the action on stage. 

I remember reading The Guardian's 2005 review of the production, questioning the flying section of the dream ballet, calling to declare the West End a "no fly zone". The breathtaking act 2 sequence is the perfect example of why a recorded version of Billy Elliot is so special, you swoop around the stage, experiencing Billy's flight as you never would - all from the comfort of your sofa. It's a completely different experience to being in the theatre and I don't think you can accurately argue which is better - for this is one entirely unique way to view the show. For this performance only, original Billy Liam Mower returns to play older Billy and it's a beautiful moment, seeing his journey and growth as a dancer, returning to dance with the boy he used to be. Despite that, I do feel for the excellent long-serving cast member Barnaby Meredith, who, for this reason, wasn't able to perform his version of the ballet on film. There is however something about two boys doing ballet together that speaks volumes for acceptance and individuality - a theme that's right at the heart of the show.

There is an incredible performance from the young Billy - Elliott Hanna who was only 10 years old when he made his first appearance in the show - making him the youngest boy to ever play the role. Hanna comes across very well on screen as an obvious triple-threat performer. His sheer talent and undoubted cheekiness defines him as one of the ultimate Billy Elliot's. Ruthie Henshall delivers all the twists and turns of Mrs Wilkinsons life, she can be both glamorous and utterly exhausted as she tries tirelessly to win over Billy's father - Deka Walmsley. Ann Emery, who has been with the production since it's beginnings is as ever, excellent and provides great comedy as Grandma. Zach Atkinson steals much of the number 'Expressing Yourself' as Michael, a lovable portrayal of Billy's cross-dressing friend.

Perhaps the large-scale success of Billy Elliot is down to it's heart. The production is not overly "showy", glitzy or full of tricks, it's brutally honest and at times is gut-wrenching, devastating but it instils hope and this recording stays true to the theatrical experience and delivers the same amount of emotion. This is a unique opportunity to experience the stage show as you've never seen it before. 

This recorded production ends with an incredible dance 'mash-up' presented by 25 current and former Billy's - a fusion of dance styles that makes for a thrilling end to the show. Exclusively for this filmed performance, there's a palpable sense of unity as this exclusive community all join in unison for the rousing tap section. 

Extras include a 'behind the curtain' look into the making of the musical, it's less of a backstage feature as the name might suggest but insightful interviews with Elton John, choreographer Peter Darling and the rest of the creative team and cast including Ruthie Henshall. There is also an introduction from Billy himself, Elliott Hanna who takes you from the stage door onto the stage, and backstage - revealing some of the secrets from the show. 

If you get this as a present for Christmas, whatever you do - don't, like Michael, swap it for a Cindy The Nurse! Out on 24 November. Purchase here.


From reading the review, or by watching  the clip below with director Stephen Daldry, simply tell us how old was Elliott Hanna when he first started playing the role of Billy? Submit your answer via the contact form at the bottom of the blog with your name, email address and answer in the 'message' box. Only one entry per person. 2 lucky winners will be selected from correct entries at random to win a copy of Billy Elliot Live on DVD. Closing date for entries is 23:59 on Thursday 4 December 2014. Good luck!


  1. I love Billy Elliot. Seen the show twice in London amd in September at my local cinema. I loved the live broadcast and even though I was anticipating a couple of changes in the DVD release, I was unprepared to see just how much changes had been made. Steadicam shots took you out of the live feel shots that the live broadcast was full of. Also, far too many fade transitioms were used and fast cutting almost spoiled one section for me. I am happy I purchased the DVD but it would have been far more cohesive and just generally better looking had they just released the broadcast version with a few minor technical tweaks which were apparant during the broadcast. The rawness of the live even was overwhelming, this DVD doesn't compare.I mean, they even colour corrected one scene?!