‘Kes’ (1969)

❉ Matt Barber on a humane and deeply sensitive film.

“Mere fodder for the mass media.”

Kes, directed by Ken Loach in 1969, is a British drama starring David Bradley as Billy Casper, a school kid growing up in Barnsley. Casper is coming to the end of his time as a pupil and is expected to get a job once he has done with studies. His brother, a mineworker and a bully, expects Billy to join him underground, but his younger brother is unclear about what he wants from his future.

The film follows him as he survives school and, in his spare time, he discovers a kestrel nesting at a farm. He takes the bird in and begins to train it, finally finding something that he is both interested and good at. It’s a film about choice and free-will. Casper is shown trapped in the systems and expectations of the community he has been brought up in, with no room for self-expression or creativity.

Like Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Casper is torn between his family, the school, and his desire to find himself. Unlike Doinel, however, he doesn’t turn to urban crime but instead heads into the countryside. Casper’s taming and control of the bird is representative of his attempts to tame and control his whole life, a parallel made clear when, after his brother spoils his dreams, he mimics the actions of the training with his sibling.

It’s a humane and deeply sensitive film. It would have been easy to make it about a conflict between the youth and the authorities, but the adults in the movie are shown to be carefully drawn with humour and, at times, empathy.

Would I recommend it? I loved the balance between the two aspects of Casper’s life, and there was a pleasing, almost fantastical nostalgia to the way the scenes of Billy training the kestrel was shot; naturalistic and almost pagan in its direction.

❉ ‘Kes’ (1969, Woodfall Film Productions). Director: Ken Loach. Producer: Tony Garnett. Cast includes David Bradley, Lynne Perrie, Colin Welland, Freddie Fletcher, Brian Glover, Bob Bowes, Bernard Atha, Joey Kane, Robert Naylor, Eric Bolderson, Joe Miller, Billy Dean, Geoffrey Banks, Duggie Brown, Trevor Hesketh, David Glover. Distributed by United Artists.

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