wed 24/04/2024

Blu-ray: Kes | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Kes

Blu-ray: Kes

Ken Loach's late Sixties classic, handsomely refurbished and alarmingly relevant

David Bradley as Billy Caspar

This new Blu-ray release of Ken Loach’s Kes looks and sounds terrific, but the film’s glories would be just as well-suited by a scratchy print projected in a school hall, or on a distressed VHS cassette. Chris Menges’ cinematography is outstanding, capturing the coal-streaked grime of 1968 Barnsley along with its beauty.

This is a work of bright, cool light and pitch blackness, the dark bedroom which Billy shares with his step-brother, Jud, a contrast with the bleached skies where the titular kestrel soars. Kes feels eerily contemporary: Barnsley’s streets look marginally smarter in 2016 but working-class boys are still being failed by our education system, and the chances of any underqualified school-leaver finding a job for life in a northern town are remote indeed.

Bits of the film are still very funny. Barnsley-born Barry Hines adapted the screenplay from his own novel. The dry wit emerges unscathed, though you may need to switch on the subtitles to catch every word. There’s a brilliant clash early in the film between Jud and his downtrodden mother, describing her latest suitor as “tight as a camel’s arse in a snowstorm”. Long passages in the film now seem like pure documentary, especially a night out in a club and the sequence showing Jud preparing for work in a local pit.

Central to Kes’s success is David Bradley’s assured performance as Billy Caspar, all hunched shoulders and pinched facial features. Billy is continually let down by those around him: neglected by his immediate family and cruelly underestimated by the teachers at his secondary modern. His relationship with the fledgling kestrel he trains is beautifully traced, Billy growing in stature and eloquence as the film proceeds. Loach’s school scenes are painfully accurate, even down to the miscreants in the Dickensian head-teacher’s office actually being caned. Pity the smallest boy, only there to pass on a message but unwittingly beaten because he can’t get a word in. Brian Glover’s thuggish PE teacher (pictured above right) is a stand-out, but Colin Welland as a sympathetic English master offers some hope. By which time it’s inevitably too late; Billy fails to place a bet for Jud and the bleak denouement is inevitable.

Bonus features are generous: this Eureka! Masters of Cinema release allow us to watch Kes with the redubbed sound track, the principals’ South Yorkshire accents slightly softened. Extracts from a 2006 reunion panel featuring Loach, Welland and Hines suffer from frustratingly poor audio, but a 1992 conversation with Loach is more revealing. Best of all is an interview with an articulate, engaging Bradley, still recognisable and recalling the production with affection.

Long passages in the film now seem like pure documentary


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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