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The representation of the working class northern man in Billy Elliot and The Full Monty Paper

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Everyone has a stereotyped view about some one else, we prejudge people all the time, whether it’s because of their background, how they look or where they come from. In Billy Elliot and The Full Monty the director challenges the stereotype of the working class northern man; we see the men as the typical stereotype and the ways in which they over come it as the film progresses. I intend to explore the representation of these men in the two films, and show how the working class northern man alters to our stereotype on them.

We get stereotypes from a number of different places, the way we are brought up and what our parents tell us has a major influence on what we think of them. We are also ‘brain washed’ by the media, newspapers have their own opinions on the working class northern man and we also see it on television programs such as Coronation Street which is also set ‘up North’. My personal views on the working class northern man and the opinion I have accumulated from such sources are that, they find it hard to express their emotions and are quite aggressive and violent.

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The stereotype also includes that the working class northern man is sexist for example believing that the role of a women is in the house doing the typical household chores- which we see reference to this in The Full Monty. The stereotype also includes that they are proud, prejudice, traditional and not very well educated- speaking with a dialect, a lot of these men are quite poor so wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school and would have to be out to work at a young age.

No stereotype is false without truth behind it, we still see aspects of the stereotype in the film but we also see them overcoming these stereotypes and in a way, becoming modernised and less traditional. Beginning with Billy Elliot, the film is set in the 1980s during the miners strike which as can be imagined, caused a lot of poverty, tension and distrust between the strikers, police and ‘scabs’ ( the name given to those who carried on working in the mines during the strike).

The whole situation was very violent, every day police had to escort the ‘scabs’ to the mines in fear of them being hurt by the strikers. The first time we see the picket line, the miners are shown in a de-humanised way. As there are so many of them, the director has given a birds’ eye view of the picket line, portraying the men as animals. We also see close ups of some of the men, de-picking expressions of their faces, the hatred and the anger they are feeling, giving the viewer a closer, more personal look at what emotions are going through these men at the time.

This scene shows how ‘masculine’ these men are, how aggressive and true to the stereotype there are by being abusive and violent- hurling fruits at the buses full of ‘scabs’. This scene is a good insight to Billy’s life, and as we see, further on in the film how his life is split between the dancing and his family in the miners strike. As I mentioned before, the common stereotype of the northern class working man, is that he is the man of the house, he is the one that earns the money and ‘puts bread on the table’, this is typical in Billy Elliot.

Jackie is the father and in charge of the family, he has a lot of pride and has his own prejudice of, that it is a mans job to earn the money. The miners strike would have effected everyone, in particular the men, they were the ones that went out to work in the mines and once on strike no money would be coming in, we see this in Billy Elliot- the family are on strike and therefore have very little money to buy food. This brings out a lot of anger and frustration in both Jackie and Tony.

Following on with Billy’s character, he is the central role and even though he is not fully a working class northern man. I would like to explore the way, as a young boy or a child in this type of society, he still differs from his family, yet keeping some traits that he accumulated from his up bringing. Billy is a caring boy, the way he is the only one that looks after his grandmother, he makes her food and takes care of her. He is understanding towards her being senile.

His mother is dead, and later on in the film we see him looking after her grave and always remembering her by playing the piano, he try’s hard at boxing even though he’s rubbish so he doesn’t let down his dad, and towards the end of the film we see him giving Michael a kiss good bye. He is not afraid to show his emotions and is very caring for a young boy, especially compared to his brother and father. However, he does have some parts of the stereotype in him, he can be quite aggressive, as we see when he’s at the ballet school and hits the young boy.

He has prejudices on other people, although not as much as his father and brother have. At the beginning of the film he is determined that boxing is for boys and ballet is for girls, once he crosses over to like ballet. We see a change in him and wants to make sure that “Just ‘cos I like ballet doesn’t mean I’m a puff” – which he tells Michael at Christmas, when he starts getting the wrong ideas! Billy has more self-control in himself than his father and how you would typical say a working class northern man has. His life is split in two, with his ballet life and his home life.

A good example of how we see this is the way that every time he is dancing or happy his life switches back by a sudden noise. When he enters the house after his meeting with the dancing teacher, the bang of the door and it’s like a sudden flash, back to reality- as if he’s living in his own little world, a sharp noise and it snaps him back to real life and his situation. His dancing is to escape his problems at home, the miners strike, his poverty it makes him feel electric ‘like electricity’. It’s a means of expressing what he is feeling, without shouting or violence.

We see this on numerous occasions during the film. Take, for example, the scene where the dance teacher comes to tell Jackie and Tony about Billy’s dancing audition. They can’t believe he likes ballet and an argument arises between Tony and the dance teacher. There’s a good use of scene cutting here, we see Billy standing on the table ‘above everyone else’ as he’s not like this and wont rise to shouting. The scene then cuts to him in an outdoor loo, the director gives the sense that he is caged in, using metaphor, as this is exactly what he is.

As the shouting gets more and more between Tony and dance teacher, Billy erupts and breaks the walls of the loo, bursting out dancing. He’s, in a way, erupting out of his brain, out of his life, he’s so frustrated that he just wants to dance and prove to everyone. This is the turning of the film, once everyone realises that he’s serious we start to see a change in Jackie and Tony’s attitude towards him. Furthermore, as I mentioned before, Billy’s way of expressing is feelings is to dance. The very first private lesson with his teacher is a key scene in the film language of the film.

We first see a long shot of the dance teacher by the window, the director has shown how lighting techniques and camera angles can give different atmospheres. In this scene all this contributes to a sense of nervousness and anticipation, a contrast to the noise and excitement of the boxing during the morning in the previous scene, this is a lot more mysterious and secretive. Even though Billy is never typically like the common stereotype of the working class northern man, he still has traits, which of course he would have considering his background. He still swears and gets aggressive at time, is determined in his dancing.

Nethertheless we still see a change in him, he still had to overcome his prejudices in believe ballet was for girls, being quite sexist. By the end of the film, he is not afraid to show his emotions, he understands what Michael is (are references to his sexuality during the film). We still see how he is un-educated and hasn’t got a very ‘broad mind’ than others in the audition scene. There’s a lot of tension and embarrassment in the fact that Billy doesn’t really know what to say or understands what he is being asked replying with ‘dunno’ all the time.

Coming from a poor working class background and speaking with a dialect makes him different from people living in London, he has his stereotyped views on people there thinking that there are snobbish and can’t really understand them. Like when we see him punch the boy after his audition, we really see the difference between people in London- upper class families to those in the North in working class families. Billy is the one character though out the film, that differs from every one else. He’s young and interested in the world around him, he wants to make something of himself and get away from the poverty that surrounds him.

In my opinion he’s the one that changes people, he makes Tony and Jackie realise where there priority’s lie and that not everything evolves around the miners strike. He changes and becomes even more independent, not afraid to ask and to show what he is. And by the end of the film we see how he is, he’s done what he wanted to do, gained respect. Grown from a boy to a man. And he’s ‘not a puff’! Following on with Jackie’s character, Billy and Tony’s father. He is very much the man of the house; he’s had to take on the role of the mother and father, after his wife has died. He is what you would call the typical working class northern man.

He’s proud in believing that it’s his job to earn the money, and won’t accept ‘charity’ from the dance teacher to pay for the journey to London. He’s sexist in saying that ballet is for girls, “lads do boxing, football … wrestling, not frigging ballet”. He can’t understand why Billy would want to do ballet instead of boxing like he and his father did. His pride has been hurt, and he probably thinks Billy’s doing it against him, he’s traditional in this way as well. He’s also aggressive and quite violent, when we see him with all the other miners on the picket line hurling abusive at the scabs.

When see him shouting at Billy on several occasions – at the start of the film, when Billy is playing the piano and Jackie shouts at him, and during the middle of the film we see the incident where he hits Tony. I think he sometimes struggles to keep his status and needs to make sure that everyone knows ‘who’s boss’. In contrast to this, we do see Jackie’s sensitive side and the part that goes against the stereotype. After the scene with him shouting at Billy we see him change and put a 50p on the fridge for his boxing, so he doesn’t go out the house feeling angry with him.

We see this side from very early on but only does it change further on in the film when he realises Billy is serious on ballet. He overcomes his personal views about the issue and try’s to talk to Billy about it. An extremely powerful scene with Jackie is when he decides to go back to work, be a ‘scab’, so that he can get money for Billy to go for his audition. He wants to do what’s right and help Billy, he realises that he doesn’t know anything about Billy ‘he could be a genius for all we know’. When Tony realises what his father his doing he chases after him, Jackie breaks down.

He knows the situation he is in, Tony re- assures him that ‘we’ll get the money some how’. Jackie is the father, and knows he is the only one that can provide for the family, he’s older and is less excited than Tony about the strike. He’s wise and wants to do what’s best. Throughout the film we see Jackie cry a total of 3 times, on the picket line, at Christmas and ‘happy’ crying when he sees Billy in London in a show. The director challenges his stereotype the most, we all know he is the character that most typically resembles the working class northern man. To show how he differs from it, the director as made him change.

Making the viewer see how he isn’t totally like the ‘brand’, we have put on him. He has a sensitive side, and on those 3 occasions isn’t afraid or embarrassed to show it. He is only human, after all! The third male in Billy’s family and that can be classed, as a working class northern man is Tony. He is a lot older than Billy and therefore hasn’t got very many things on common. He’s a rebel and excited for the strike, to him it’s a game and he wants to use violence and abuse at the ‘scabs’. In several scenes we see that he’s very negative and thinks he’s right he blocks out Billy incredibly and only when Jackie accepts the ballet does Tony.

One of the scenes that reflects Tony’s character and the position he is in, is the scene where we see him running away from the police. Music is used effectively here, The Clash’s London Calling- a loud a rebellious song, a perfect choice reflecting upon Tony’s character and the scene itself giving it atmosphere and character. We can see how Tony is excited and enjoying the chase, running through houses and washing. This is probably the only scene that we see Tony acting slightly younger than he is through out the film, this chase is like a game to Tony- like a small child.

The whole chase seems quite childish, and is a nice link to Billy, as we see Billy running a lot- the director has shown that despite all their arguments Tony and Billy have some similarities. The scene ends with the police catching up with Tony, this time they are being de-humanised, stand all in one big mass, beating on their shields sounding quite tribal, a massive difference from the chase minutes before- which was quite fun, it has now turned rather nasty. We see this a lot during the film, how Billy’s life changes suddenly from being happy with the dancing, to the natural truth of his life- his family’s situation in the miners strike.

Similarly to Jackie, Tony has trouble when dealing with his emotions, and prefers to be abusive than talk for example when Billy asked what Tony thought about death he just replied with ‘F*** off’. This giving the impression that he was quite arrogant and thought he was better than Billy (because he’s older), and doesn’t want to answer his questions or even talk to him. Two key scenes reflect Tony’s sensitive, one with Jackie as he breaks down on the picket line and right at the end when Tony mouth’s ‘I’ll miss you’ to Billy. Like is mentioned before the scene with both Jackie and Tony on the picket line is a very powerful emotional scene.

We see how the roles are reversed and Tony has to comfort his father reassuring him that everything will be ok. On the other hand, in my view he seems rather embarrassed and slightly worried about what he’s friends would think if his father became a ‘scab’. However, we do see this caring side to him, along with the scene at the end, as Billy departs on his way to ballet school. Tony try’s to act ‘hard’ through out the film, trying to maintain his stereotype. The director has represented him as a ‘fill in’ to the family, he is in between Jackie and Billy.

Despite his very ‘masculine’ approach to everything and thinking he’s better than every one else, we see a different side to him in the scene when his father hits him. Personally, I find that there is quite a struggle between Jackie and Tony as to who is man of the house, both of them are un-employed and that weakens Jackie. This scene is powerful, there is no music and it’s set in the darkness of the kitchen, creating an atmosphere. Tony wants to go out and do some damage to the ‘scabs’ but Jackie wont let him, he calls him a disgrace and tells him ‘your nothing since mum died’, this is the trigger and Jackie hits him.

It’s an action to punish him for what he has said and also to put him in his place. Jackie wants to make sure Tony realises ‘who’s boss’ and he does, Tony doesn’t hit him back after a pure sign of respect. Tony is probably the one person that I feel doesn’t change as much as Billy or Jackie, we do see him differing from his stereotype but not as much. He’s still very much, the aggressive, abusive, rebellious person you would imagine. None the less, he does begin to respect Billy and he loses his prejudices of ballet, whereas before he thought that, like Jackie did, ‘ballet is for girls’.

We see a more caring and sensitive side to him as the film progress, he becomes more understanding and more adult- realises his situation and position, like Jackie does. There are a couple of other characters in Billy Elliot film that should be mentioned because there are working class northern men and I would like to show how not all are typically like their stereotype. Take for instance Michael. He’s the complete opposite to how the stereotype is, he’s very feminine and not afraid to show it, he’s caring and compassionate towards Billy.

We see him ‘experimenting’ with his sisters’ make-up and clothes, and puts on a tu-tu that Billy gets for him, at Christmas. He has his own prejudices, as he thinks that because Billy likes ballet he must be homosexual. He’s really not what you would expect from a person in that society but of course it happens and the director has given Michael as a good example of this. Even in that situation some people are different and have hardly any qualities of the stereotyped view of the working class northern man.

Another person in Billy Elliot classed as the northern class working man, who actually, because of his situation, differs from the classic stereotype. The dance teacher’s husband is a middle-class man, they live in a ‘good’ area, with a bigger house than Billy’s family, however he has been made redundant. Which shows that it wasn’t just the working class people that were unemployed in the 1980s, middle class people were made re-dundatent maybe because of the lack of produce beign sold and not being able to pay for extra employees?

In this example, the roles are reversed and the dance teacher is still at work whereas her husband isn’t, she is the main earner in the house, this going against the stereotype as being the man is proud and is the provider. The dance teacher’s husband, doesn’t seem to mind, he realises the situation the miner’s are in and is disinterested. A common feeling men would have been feeling in that situation ( as we see later in The Full Monty) some men just seemed to give up believing that, that was it.

Looking at film language in Billy Elliot, I have found that each character is represented in a different way, Billy is always wearing quite bright colours and in lots of scenes with him in there is music which reflects upon is personality. Whereas Jackie and Tony’s characters are more mysterious and even though there is a scene where everyone is dancing to the same tune there isn’t as much ‘happy’ filming with them. The use of scene cutting between the miners and Billy dancing is used to great effect creating a massive contrast between the two, making the miners scene more powerful and effective.

The use of long shot camera angle is good as well, the classic part in the film of Billy running up the hill and later with his father doing the same. Looking at the very last scene of the film, an extremely moving piece. The film has moved on about 7-10 years, we see Jackie has aged, having grey hair. They have come to watch Billy in a performance of Swan Lake (a link from when the dance teacher took Billy to played him the piece of music). Little is said by Billy as he waits in the wings, the music of the ballet piece is played and we see Billy warming up and getting ready to go on.

The music and the way Billy is acting builds up incredible tension and enthusiasm. The scene cuts to Jackie and back again, we see Billy rush on stage and the scene cuts back to Jackie where he gasps/cry’s in amazement. We see a close up on his face to see his sense of pride and astonishment. The film ends with a picture of Billy mid air, in a jump. Personally, I feel this last scene is the most memorable of the whole film, I was really into it. The way it has been filmed really gets the viewer to actually believe what is going on. It feels as if your Billy and Jackie, feeling nervous, excited and amazed. Best part of the film for me!

The representation of the working class northern man in Billy Elliot and The Full Monty

About the author

The following sample is written by Matthew who studies English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. All the content of this paper is his own research and point of view on The representation of the working class northern man in Billy Elliot and The Full Monty and can be used only as an alternative perspective.

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