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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 09:54 GMT
Stephen Daldry: From stage to screen
Stephen Daldry, Julie Waters and Jamie Bell
Daldry at the Baftas with Julie Waters and Jamie Bell
Billy Elliott is theatre director Stephen Daldry's first attempt at making a feature film director, and what a debut it was.

Though Daldry has had a glittering British theatrical career, he has now been catapulted to international fame and a place at the Oscar ceremony, where he is in competition as best director.

Daldry was fortunate in that he was groomed for film by Working Title, the UK production company that created Notting Hill, Elizabeth and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Julie Walters and Stephen Daldry
Daldry admits to nipping in to see the film when abroad
They gave Daldry the script of the short film Eight as his first screen venture in 1998 and Billy Elliot is the first film to be made by the company's low-budget spin-off WT2.

He has handled the media scrums and public duties attached to the film with panache, but then he has always been known for his bold theatrical style.

He has rearranged theatre seating for effect in his production of Ron Hutchinson's Rat In The Skull, he encouraged one of Britain's finest playwrights to take to the stage in Via Doloroso and dumps the set, explosing the backstage area in an arresting scene from his most recent production - Far Away.

But Daldry first grabbed public attention at the Gate Theatre in London, which he ran between 1990 and 1992.

The Gate was a small fringe theatre when he started working there and he converted it to a showcase for international tastes and talents.

When he was made artistic director at the Royal Court at the age of 32, it was nothing short of phenomenal, particularly for a man with a Sheffield University education and a history of involvement in radical politics.

Daldry was a member of Sheffield University Socialist Worker's Party in the 80s, something he has said gave him a "political education."

This is a film about a boy trying to find a means of self-expression within what is a collapsing world

Stephen Daldry

These political leanings are evident in his most famous productions.

His revival of JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls - originally for the National Theatre, but now a West End and touring hit - was seen as an assault on Thatcher's Britain.

Though written in 1945, it is a play about agitation and propaganda and the production emphasised the notion that there is and needs to be a caring society.

Other examples are Rat In the Skull which dealt with imprisonment in Northern Ireland and Via Dolorosa, which starred the playwright David Hare was a monologue about the Arab-Israeli conflict which was later screened on BBC Two.

And Billy Eliot is no exception, set as it is against the highly political backdrop of the 1984 miner's strike, which Daldry has said was pivotal to the film.

"It is central as this is a film about a boy trying to find a means of self-expression within what is a collapsing world, " he told the BBC.

Billy Elliot's means of self-expression is to choose ballet over boxing to the fury of his father, a striking miner.

Jamie Bell as Billy Elliot
The film has brought boy dancers into ballet schools around the country
Daldry's own father died of cancer when he was 14 and he has said that his emotions about that time were something he worked into Billy Elliot who has lost his mother.

The emotional content of the film has been criticised by some, notably by Time magazine's film critic who called it "emotional pornography", but audiences clearly do not agree.

Daldry is still working in the theatre - he directed the recent Caryl Churchill play Far Away to great acclaim, at the Royal Court.

But he has taken to cinema with alacrity and is now working with Meryl Streep on The Hours, an adaptation of the Michael Cunningham novel The hours, which is itself a derivative of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.

And his next project will be with Natural Nylon, the production company set up by Ewan McGregor and Jude Law.

He will direct their long-cherished project, The hellfire Club, about a group of 18th century socialites.

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