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The Struggle With Adversity: Billy Elliot And The Handmaids Tale

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The conflict between pursuit of personal desire and choosing to conform is a common human experience that is explored in both Stephen Daldry’s film “Billy Elliot” and Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel “A Handmaids Tale”. Both composers present the protagonists with situations of heightened adversity to test character, perseverance and resilience.

Adversity is defined as “a difficult or unpleasant situation” therefor depending on the individual, adversity may be feeling restricted in the environment they currently find themselves in. This statement holds true in regard to “Billy Elliot’ is set in a world during the financially stricken and economically weakened era of the miners strike. This era was dominated by the social issues of poverty and class. Billy lives in a world where gender stereotyped played a role in shaping societal boundaries of what is socially expected from a ‘male’. Daldry uses the masculine sport of boxing to represent Billy’s failure: “you’re a disgrace to them gloves, your father, and the traditions of this boxing hall”. Billy is willing to push and challenge the gender barriers and expectations by exclaiming: “I don’t wanna do boxing, I wanna be a ballet dancer”. A close up of Billy’s face along with an uplifting use of lighting captures his passion and his secret longing to express it. Consequently, a ripple effect is caused due to his attempt to challenge society. This creates conflict within Billy’s family. Billy’s dad, Jacky shows his discontent when he yells: “Boys do boxing, football, wrestling, not bloody ballet” the use of the explicit profanities mirror, as well as accentuate societies ferocity at Billy challenging the gender based stereotypes which were clear and defined.

Offred, the main protagonist in Margaret Atwood’s bestselling novel, “The Handmaids Tale”, is faced with heightened adversity and great oppression living as a fertile handmaid in the newly established republic of Gilead.

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A struggle with adversity increases an individual’s maturity and has the potential to change their perceptions of the world around them. In “Billy Elliot” Daldry provides the audience with background context on Billys family through the use of panning shots and symbolism of the piano. The piano serves as a reflection of billys connection to his deceased mother, highlighting the impact of her loss of life. At the beginning of the film, Billys piano playing is out of tune and somewhat annoying which is reflective of Billy’s dysfunctional family and his inability to express himself, as per societal expectations and stereotyped gender roles. However as the film progresses. His musical abilities improve, mirroring his transformation as a dancer and his family’s ( who are representative of society) gradual acceptance of his newly formed identity as a ballet dancer. As a result, it can be concluded that it his connection to his late mother that is the facilitators for his passion for the arts and dancing which results in him overcoming his struggle with adversity.

To grow as a person and on a spiritual level individual are often compelled to overcome various challenges and adversity. During the entirety of the movie, Billy is constantly reminded of gender roles and societal expectations during the 1980’s. as exemplified by through the choice of costuming, the boxing gloves which hang around Billy’s neck accompanied with his facial expression of complete bluntness reveal to the audience that boxing is not of his interest but rather a burden. However, through his decision to replace his gloves with ballet shoes, he undergoes the journey of going against social norms which ultimately results in his growth as a dancer and an individual. This consequence is evident through the close-up shots on Billy’s feet at the beginning and end of the film contrasting his dancing abilities and depicting his evolvement as a dancer. His journey is further highlighted through the reoccurring theme of Swan Lake which symbolises his transformation from a naïve young boy into a refined and world-renowned ballet dancer. Furthermore, Daldry utilises the pirouette to symbolise the beginning of Billy’s journey, depicting his initial struggle of both becoming a ballet dancer as well as receiving his family’s acknowledgement. The juxtaposition between his pirouette at the beginning and end of the film signify not only his growth as a dancer but also the overcome obstacle of the acceptance from family and society.


The common human experience of adversity is evident within “Billy Elliot” and “The Handmaids Tale””. The film “Billy Elliot” follows the journey of Billy who attempts to challenge social norms and gender stereotypes during 1988-85. He overcomes his struggle with adversity to forge a life in the gender stereotyped world of ballet. Although different in nature to Billy Elliot’s, the challenges that arise in “The Handmaids Tale” still create a struggle with adversity for the protagonist, Offred. Oppressed by the establishment of the Gilead regime, handmaids face constant adversity throughout their everyday lives. Offred demonstrates that she is able to overcome her struggle with adversity and ultimately salvage a life with intimacy, happiness and purpose despite having all things that make her human stripped from her.

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The Struggle With Adversity: Billy Elliot And The Handmaids Tale. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“The Struggle With Adversity: Billy Elliot And The Handmaids Tale.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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