In 1984, Billy Elliot, an 11-year-old from the fictional Everington in County Durham, England, loves to dance and has hopes of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Billy lives with his widowed father, Jackie, and older brother, Tony, both coal miners out on strike (the latter being the union bully), and also his maternal grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease and once aspired to be a professional dancer.
Billy’s father sends him to the gym to learn boxing, but Billy dislikes the sport. He happens to see a ballet class that is using the gym while their usual basement studio is temporarily being used as a soup kitchen for the striking miners. Unknown to Jackie, Billy joins the ballet class. When Jackie discovers this, he forbids Billy to take any more ballet. But, passionate about dancing, Billy secretly continues lessons with the help of his dance teacher, Sandra Wilkinson.
Mrs. Wilkinson believes that Billy is talented enough to study at the Royal Ballet School in London, but due to Tony’s arrest during a clash between police and striking miners, Billy misses the audition. Mrs. Wilkinson tells Jackie about the missed opportunity, but fearing that Billy will be considered to be gay, both Jackie and Tony are outraged at the prospect of him becoming a professional ballet dancer.
Over Christmas, Billy learns his best friend Michael is gay. Billy is supportive of his friend. Later, Jackie catches Billy dancing in the gym and realises his son is truly gifted; he resolves to do whatever it takes to help Billy attain his dream. Mrs. Wilkinson tries to persuade Jackie to let her pay for the audition, but he replies that Billy is his son and he does not need charity. Jackie attempts to cross the picket line to pay for the trip to London, but Tony stops him. Instead, his fellow miners and the neighbourhood raise some money and Jackie pawns Billy’s mother’s jewellery to cover the cost, and Jackie takes him to London to audition.
Although very nervous, Billy performs well, but he punches another boy in frustration at the audition, fearing that he has ruined his chances of attaining his dream. He is rebuked by the review board, but when asked what it feels like when he is dancing, he struggles for words but describes it as being “like electricity”. Seemingly rejected, Billy returns home with his father. Sometime later, the Royal Ballet School sends him a letter of acceptance, coinciding with the end of the miners’ strike, and he leaves home for London.
In 1998, 25-year-old Billy takes the stage to perform the Swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, as Jackie, Tony, and Michael watch from the audience; his father visibly moved by the performance.