Masters Of Cinema #151 - Kes - Blu-ray Review

'A captivating and stark representation of working class life shot through with wry satirical humour'.

There's an amusing anecdote from Ken Loach about a group of US film executives being shown Kes for the first time. According to the director, the Americans said after watching that they could understand Hungarian better than the thick Yorkshire dialect spoken throughout the film. Having struggled with some of the dialogue myself, I can empathise with just how alienating the broad speech patterns and accents could prove to someone from outside the UK, let alone outside Yorkshire. But it's also not an aspect which should detract from Kes as a powerful piece of cinematic poetry. Just as you might not understand every word spoken throughout a performance of Shakespeare, so it is with Loach's film that taking in the performances, images and sociopolitical messages is more important than one hundred percent comprehension of each line as it's spoken

In presenting a snapshot of the life of fifteen-year-old Billy Casper (David Bradley) as he cares for and trains Kes, a young kestrel he takes from the wild, Loach provides a captivating and stark representation of working class life shot through with wry satirical humour. The director merges documentary style in some scenes with impressionistic cinema in others, as well as including some postmodern inflections here and there. Whilst this means that Kes's plot is allowed to drift into the background on numerous occasions, it's an approach which ensures Loach's film simultaneously offers distinct realism and artistic craftsmanship in a pleasing blend throughout.

Loach is unrelenting in his criticism of the adults within Billy's life. Some, like many of his teachers and his deplorable alpha male half-brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher), are flagrant bullies; others, like his mother (Lynne Perry), fail to provide him with the support he needs; whilst others still, such as his father, are simply absent altogether. It's a bleak outlook, but one which Loach skilfully lines with rays of hope, most notably through Billy's relationship with Kes. The director limits how often we see Kes on screen, instead allowing his protagonist's passion for the bird to come through in other ways. A scene in which Billy passionately describes training Kes to his enraptured English teacher and classmates is wonderful, perfectly encapsulating the poetry and realism of Loach's film at the same time.

After lulling you into truly believing that Billy might just achieve the happy ending he so deserves, it's in the final act that the director delivers an emotionally charged dose of punishing reality. It's a heart-rending sucker punch, but one which feels entirely authentic and in no way exploitative. Loach ensures that Kes's core message of the perpetual struggle of those placed at the bottom of society's hierarchy, not only against those wielding authority over them but also against themselves, comes sharply into focus at just the right time in beautiful, harrowing fashion.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Kes is released in the UK on Monday 7th November 2016

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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