The life of 11-year-old Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell), a coal miner's son in Northern England, is forever changed one day when he stumbles upon a ballet class during his weekly boxing lesson. Before long, he finds himself in dance, demonstrating the kind of raw talent seldom seen by the class' exacting instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters).
With a tart tongue and a never-ending stream of cigarettes in her hand, Mrs. Wilkinson's zest for teaching is revived when she sees Billy's potential. Rather forgetting the other ballerinas, she's drawn into teaching her new protege.
But Billy must keep his participation in the class a secret from his widowed father (Gary Lewis) and overbearing brother (Jamie Draven), as both men are on strike from their jobs at the mine, and are struggling just to keep food on the table. Their pent up frustrations finally explode when they discover Billy has been squandering his boxing money on less than manly pursuits.
Banned from ballet, and troubled by the diminishing mental capacity of his grandmother (Jean Heywood), Billy finds solace with his school friend Michael (Stuart Wells) which deepens into a touching friendship. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilkinson encourages Billy to try out for the Royal Ballet School in London, where he can refine his craft while escaping his oppressive surroundings.
But he is torn between his responsibility to his family and to the gift with which he has been blessed. For his overwhelming desire to dance is more than a means of self-expression. It is his passion, and it is his destiny.