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Kes (1970)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: March 27th, 1970 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ken Loach Actors: David Bradley, Freddie Fletcher, Lynne Perrie, Colin Welland, Brian Glover, Bob Bowes, Bernard Atha, Agnes Drumgoon

L

ittle Billy Casper (David Bradley) is a newspaper delivery boy for Mr. Porter in northern England, where his older brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) works in the mines (the pit). Speaking out at school, getting in trouble with teachers, and unsuccessfully calling on friends for early morning nestin’ across the lush countryside, Billy seems most at home in the sheer solitude of the woods. When he spies a kestrel’s nest high up at Monastery Farm, he decides he wants to capture it to train. Going to the public library for a book on falconry doesn’t work out (he’s not old enough), so he steals the Falconer’s Handbook from a store down the street. While his mother and brother spend every Saturday drinking and socializing, Billy reads up on his project and returns to the farm to nab a chick.

Spending his free time raising the bird of prey, Billy soon becomes unable to focus much on school. It’s there, amongst classmates and instructors, that he’s taken away from the simple joys of caring for his new pet, subjected instead to mistreatment from nearly everyone with whom he interacts. The ideas of great patience and reluctance toward flying the hawk free from its leash correspond keenly with the lack of patience exhibited by teachers, and the scant freedoms outside of school and work. Despite being bullied by other teens and harassed by authority figures, Billy is proud and contented with his obedient kestrel, which he sees as an untamable, forever wild creature, unconcerned with humankind – and merely doing him a favor by letting him witness her inspiring gracefulness.

At times, the cinematography is notably unhurried, gazing on the bird’s mesmerizing flight or watching it bob its head while perched on a fence. At others, the shots fade quickly as if rushed to get to the next scene, or perhaps acknowledging the needlessness of showing certain footage (such as climbing back down a wall once it’s been scaled or repetition during training montages). And still at others, the editing is artistic, cutting between Billy’s mother (Lynne Perrie) lamenting over Jud’s failure to be something more, and Jud’s drunken hassling of everyone around him, or the camera zooming in to narrate a comic strip. There’s also room for comedy as a pompous football (soccer) coach attempts to teach disinterested students to play a game he’s obviously altogether passionate about – going so far as to cheat and bully opposing players – all while famous music thunders, and scores flash across the screen.

As a slice-of-life drama and coming-of-age tale of uneducated, poverty-stricken, working-class Yorkshire residents (the epitome of human suffering in this time period), “Kes” is nearly documentary-like in style and presentation, as if to peek in on the goings-on of the gritty, disadvantaged lives of such youths. Yet there’s a satisfaction to be found in the sereneness of the boy and his bird, contrasting with the harsh realities of growing pains. Adults are portrayed as abusive, cruel, unfair, and uncaring, while nearly all communications between grownups and children are enshrouded in yells and insults. All the glamour and theatrics are stripped away to expose the realistic challenges of adolescence, the limited future prospects of the impoverished, familial struggles, and the bird’s mirroring of the hope of – or attempt to – escape, and the tragic futility of such an arduous endeavor.

– Mike Massie

 



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