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Lee Hall (playwright)

Lee Hall
Born 20 September 1966
Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England, UK
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) Beeban Kidron (m. 2003)

Lee Hall (born 20 September 1966) is an English playwright and screenwriter. He is best known for the 2000 film Billy Elliot.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Works 4
  • Awards and nominations 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Hall was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, in 1966, the son of a house painter and decorator and a housewife. He was educated at Benfield Comprehensive School. As a youth he went to Wallsend Young People's Theatre along with Deka Walmsley and Trevor Fox who later appeared in both Billy Elliott and The Pitmen Painters.

Lee went to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he studied English Literature and was taught by the poet Paul Muldoon.[1] After leaving Cambridge, he worked as a youth theatre fundraiser in Newcastle and at the Gate Theatre in London. In 1997, his playwriting career was launched with the broadcast of his radio play, Spoonface Steinberg, on BBC Radio 4.[2]


Hall's most commercially successful work is Billy Elliot, the story of a North Eastern English boy who, in the face of opposition from his family and community, aspires to be a ballet dancer. The inspiration for the screenplay was drawn, in part, from the A. J. Cronin novel The Stars Look Down, which is also set in an English coal mining community during a strike, and similarly tells the story of a miner's son who goes against the grain.[3] The character Billy was also partly inspired by the renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen who came from a similar background, having been born in the North East's County Durham.[4] Initially a 1999 film directed by Stephen Daldry, for which Hall wrote the screenplay, and for which he received an Academy Award nomination, Billy Elliot was later turned into a stage musical, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Hall. It is enjoying a long run in the West End and opened on Broadway in 2008. It won Hall the 2009 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.

Also successful was Spoonface Steinberg, the tale of a young autistic Jewish girl who is dying of cancer. The last in a quartet of radio plays entitled God's Country, the monologue aroused an unprecedented listener response when it was broadcast in 1997 on BBC Radio. It was subsequently voted one of the ten best radio dramas of all time by readers of the magazine Radio Times. Spoonface Steinberg was adapted as a television play and into a one woman show starring 42-year-old actress Kathryn Hunter. The play opened in 1999 and later transferred to the West End.

Hall had more limited success with his comedy Cooking with Elvis, the protagonist of which is an Elvis Presley impersonator who has been paralyzed in a car crash. It was originally a 1995 radio play but it became a stage play in 1999. Hall's fondness for moving from one medium to another can also be seen in his work I Luv You Jimmy Spud, which began as a 1995 radio play and was later adapted by Hall into a stage play and a film, Gabriel and Me, starring Billy Connolly and Iain Glen.

He has also translated plays by Carlo Goldoni, Bertolt Brecht and Herman Heijermans and co-written the screenplays for recent adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

Hall's most recent play, The Pitmen Painters, inspired by art critic William Feaver's book on the Ashington Group, premiered at the refurbished Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2008. It tells of a group of miners from Ashington, Northumberland, who decide to learn about art and begin to paint. The production later transferred to the National Theatre in London and opened on Broadway in September 2010. It won the 2008 Evening Standard Award for Best Play.

In 2011, controversy arose over a children's opera that Hall had written, called Beached. The opera was commissioned by Opera North and was to have been performed by children from Bay Primary School in Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire. The story is about a gay retired painter, a single father who tries to spend a quiet day at the seaside with his son, but who is interrupted by children on a school trip, dogs, a landscape painter, an amateur dramatic society and others. After rehearsals had been going on for six months, the school threatened to pull the children out of the production if changes were not made to the libretto. Hall changed some words to accommodate their requests, but school officials, supported by Opera North, insisted on the removal of the words "I'm queer" and "I prefer a lad to a lass," and other references to the character being gay.[5] The school eventually agreed to let the children perform if Hall changed "queer" to "gay."[6]

Hall was the original writer on the screenplay for a film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse; he shares credit on the finished film with Richard Curtis, who was brought in by Steven Spielberg.[7] His most recent TV work is an adaptation of Nigel Slater's Autobiography Toast, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore and set in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. First broadcast on BBC One in December 2010, Toast received a gala at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival and was released in cinemas on 11 August 2011. He also worked on the screenplay for the yet-to-released Working Title film Hippie Hippie Shake, based on Richard Neville's memoir Hippie Hippie Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw Ups: The Sixties.

Other projects in the pipeline include a Down and Out In Paris and London.[10]

Personal life

Hall married film director Beeban Kidron in 2003,[11] who was the initial director of Hippie Hippie Shake.


  • Beached (2011)

Awards and nominations



  1. ^ 12 May 2001The poet at play Profile Guardian Accessed 2013-10-16
  2. ^ Johnson, Andrew (29 November 2009). "'"Lee Hall: 'Cambridge taught me I was short. The Independent On Sunday (London). Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "Bill and Lee’s excellent adventures". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 2 January 2002. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  4. ^ Whitley, John (10 September 2007). "If Billy Elliot had been a painter...". Telegraph (London). Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  5. ^ Hall, Lee (3 July 2011). "'"Lee Hall: 'I will fight this. The Guardian (London). 
  6. ^ "Homophobia row opera to go ahead". BBC News. 7 July 2011. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Elton John's life to get big screen treatment". BBC News. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  9. ^ "Roger Waters rebuilds The Wall". Herald Sun. 30 June 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall adapts George Orwell". BBC News. 30 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Barr, Gordon (15 October 2003). "Bridget's boys". Chronicle Live. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 

External links

  • Billy Elliot the Musical Fansite
  • Lee Hall at British Council: Literature
  • Interview with Lee Hall
  • [Internet Movie Database--Lee Hall]
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