Starring: David Bradley, Freddie Fletcher, Brian Glover
Friday 09 September 2011
Spearheading a BFI tribute to director Ken Loach on his 75th birthday, Kes (first seen in 1969) has retained so much of its vigour and rawness. Essentially it's a heartbreaking story of thwarted youth.
David Bradley plays the scrawny waif, Billy, with a face out of Dickens or Mayhew and an accent as broad as the Yorkshire moors. Victimised at school and bullied at home by his thuggish older brother, the boy is only happy when he's out training his kestrel hawk to fly free. The film's great scene involves the one decent schoolmaster (Colin Welland) coaxing Billy to stand up and tell his classmates about the hawk: his stumbling but passionate monologue holds the room spellbound. This, suggests the script (by Loach, Tony Garnett and Barry Hines, from the latter's novel), is the feeling and eloquence a supposedly dead-end kid is capable of. What surprises is the portrait of the disciplinarian secondary school that Billy's about to leave, where the headmaster verges on the psychotic and a bullying PE teacher (hilarious Brian Glover) plays out his fantasies of being Bobby Charlton.
That system looks upside down today, when teachers are being terrorised by pupils. The school in which Loach filmed was a real one, the faces and voices an authentic record of the day: hard not to laugh at Billy swinging on the goal's crossbar, but also at the fat kid – the eternal figure – who's picked last at games. Loach's beady eye catches it all, but it's the casting of Bradley that was his masterstroke.
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