Sunday, 14 August 2011

Kes (1969) The Ken Loach Classic

Kes was a 1969 British film from Director Ken Loach and producer Tony Garnett. The film is based on the novel, A Kestrel for a Knave written by the Barnsley-born author Barry Hines in 1968. The film is ranked seventh in the The British Film Institute's Top Ten (British) Films and among the top ten in its lists of the top 50 films you should see by the time you are aged 14.

The film focuses on 15-year-old Billy Casper, who has little hope in life and is bullied both at home, by his physically and verbally abusive half-brother, Judd, as well as at school. He is mischievous himself; he steals milk from milk floats, gets other students into trouble and generally fights and misbehaves. Billy comes over as an emotionally neglected boy with little self-respect. Billy's mother refers to him in the film as a "hopeless case". His father is dead.

The film shows scenes of Billy's school. The headmaster canes a group of boys who were caught smoking. One scene of comic relief in an otherwise bleak film is of a gym teacher (played by Brian Glover) taking part in a football game, fantasising about himself as Bobby Charlton and commentating on the match in his head.

Outside cadging money and day-dreaming at school, Billy has no positive interests. His greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner (at that time, British miners were amongst the lowest paid workers in the developed world), but he has no apparent escape route from what would ultimately be his fate. That is until he finds an outlet from his pitiful existence through training a kestrel that he takes from a nest on a farm. His interest in learning falconry prompts Billy to steal a book on the subject from a secondhand book shop as he cannot get a borrower's card for the public library.

As the relationship between Billy and "Kes", the kestrel, during the training improves so does Billy's outlook and horizons. For the first time in the film Billy receives praise, from his English teacher after delivering an impromptu talk on his relationship with the bird.

However, when Judd sends Billy off to place a bet on a horse, Billy spends the money on chips, as he assumes the horse is unlikely to win. However, the horse wins (meaning Judd would have won over £10 if Billy had put the bet on), and Judd is furious at Billy, and takes revenge by killing his kestrel because he could not find Billy. Judd confronts his mother and Billy finds his kestrel, who is now dead. Billy shows his kestrel to Judd and his mother, leaving Judd angry at him, but Billy leaves to stop the confrontation. He buries his kestrel in the same garden he found the bird.

Kes was Ken Loach's second feature film, and marks his move away from the self-conscious experimentalism of his earlier work.

As before, Loach developed a close partnership with the author of the source work, in this case Barry Hines, on whose novel A Kestrel for a Knave the film is based. Loach worked with both Hines and producer Tony Garnett to adapt it as a film script.

The dominant theme of Kes is the way in which the education system stifles the talents of many young working-class children, offering them little choice but to follow the narrow path laid out for them by an industrial capitalist society which sees them as fit only for unskilled manual or office work. This theme runs through much of Loach's work.

The influence of Italian neo-realism film-making can be traced in Kes, as in Poor Cow (1967). Loach explained, "the camera's job was to record in a sympathetic way and to be unobtrusive, not to be slick." Loach and his cameraman Chris Menges didn't, as is common in fiction films, mark spots for the actors to hit, but instead tried to accommodate the actors' movements. Loach, though, has admitted that throughout his films, including Kes, "I lay traps, as it were," for example by moving furniture. The apparent simplicity and directness of Loach's filming thus contains an element of manipulation which is hidden from both the audience and the actors.
Casting is also a striking feature of Kes. Colin Welland, as the English teacher, Farthing, was the only professional actor in the cast, although several, notably Brian Glover as the bullying Games teacher, went on to acting careers. All of the pupils, including Dai Bradley, who gives a remarkably natural performance as Billy, came from the Barnsley school in which the film was shot, while the headmaster was played by the school's own head. As with several Loach films, many of the adult cast were found in local clubs where they worked as entertainers and comics. Loach has commented that he casts for "authenticity of age, class or region," believing that even skilled actors cannot disguise their class origins under the close scrutiny of the camera.
Initially, there were difficulties in getting Kes shown, and it had a patchy release after opening in Doncaster. Since then, however, it has become one of Loach's best known and admired films.

Kes - 27 x 40 Movie Poster - Style B
Directed byKen Loach
Produced byTony Garnett
Screenplay byBarry Hines
Ken Loach
Tony Garnett
Based onA Kestrel for a Knave by
Barry Hines
StarringDavid Bradley
Freddie Fletcher
Lynne Perrie
Colin Welland
Brian Glover
Music By
John Cameron
CinematographyChris Menges
Editing byRoy Watts
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date(s)1969
Running time110 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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