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Kes - out now on Blu-ray

Monday, 07 November 2016 00:00 Written by 

Kes - out now on Blu-rayDavid Bradley (“Hummingbird”, “All Quiet on the Western Front”) stars as Billy Casper, a scruffy young teenager living in a broken, working-class home, and who struggles at school thanks to apathy for education and widespread bullying. Billy finds his calling, however, when he catches sight of some fledgling kestrels and decides to catch one and train it. Having studied falconry, the lad slowly and patiently builds a rapport with his wonderful bird of prey.

Directed by Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”, “Sweet Sixteen”), the film is shot in a very realistic, natural style that often feels more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary than a work of fiction. The story is based on a novel by Barry Hines (“Threads”, “Looks and Smiles”), and the production won two acting BAFTAs for Bradley and Colin Welland, who plays a teacher sympathetic to Billy’s plight.

Bradley’s award was well deserved as he captivates as the free-spirited boy, barely present in the real world as the kestrel becomes the centre of his universe. He drifts through school, can barely read and write and seems to interact with adults mostly in order to earn money and obtain supplies for his beloved pet.

The location photography perfectly captures the clash between the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside on the one hand, and the ugly coal mine and resulting scarred hillsides on the other. Billy is outraged when asked at a career interview if he wants to go and work at the pit. It represents everything that he hates – industry, dark, confined spaces and the destruction of nature. All he wants is to lose himself in the lush pastures, Kes gliding and darting overhead.

The surrounding characters are a colourful bunch; some, like Billy’s older half-brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher – Queenie’s Castle), fellow pupil MacDowell (Robert Naylor) and conceited P.E. teacher Mr. Sugden (Brian Glover – “Alien 3”, Campion) bulldozer their way through life, looking down on him and constantly pushing him around. A few others are more compassionate, especially Mr. Farthing (Welland – “Straw Dogs”, the Oscar-winning writer of “Chariots of Fire”), a teacher less interested in punishing under-achieving or bothersome boys and more interested in finding out what is at the root of their behaviour.

There is plenty of political and social commentary in the film (for example on the state of the education system and the vapid lives people lead), but it is perfectly enjoyable on a less complex level as a film about a school boy and his kestrel. That enjoyment comes at a price however, as the abrupt, downbeat ending stuns the viewer and leaves them emotionally wounded.

I cannot recommend “Kes” strongly enough, and the bountiful bonus content helps to make this a Blu-ray disc you really should invest in. A word of warning, though: Some of the dialogue features very thick Northern accents that I occasionally found difficult to decipher, especially in scenes where characters are gossiping in a club.

Special features on the disc include:

  • Digital restoration of the film, supervised and approved by director Ken Loach and director of photography Chris Menges, with the filmmaker’s original production soundtrack, with uncompressed monaural audio on the Blu-ray edition
  • Alternate release soundtrack, with post-dubbed dialogue
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Exclusive new video interviews with actor David Bradley, producer Tony Garnett, director of photography Chris Menges, composer John Cameron, actor Bernard Atha, and kestrel advisor Richard Hines
  • Excerpts from the 2006 “Kes” reunion panel at the Bradford Film Festival, featuring Ken Loach, Tony Garnett, writer Barry Hines and actor Colin Welland
  • Extensive 1992 on-stage interview at the NFT with Ken Loach, interviewed by Derek Malcolm
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • A booklet featuring new writing on the film and archival material

The lengthy interviews have some great anecdotes, including Bradley describing how in one scene set in their school, several of the actors were unexpectedly caned, and then went on strike until they were offered bonuses for subsequent takes, and Hines detailing a rather mean stunt the director pulled on Bradley regarding the end of the film.

“Kes” (1969) is out now, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment Ltd. The main feature has a running time of 109 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Monday, 07 November 2016 09:23

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