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Kes

Year: 1969
Production Co: Kestrel Films Ltd
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Ken Loach
Cast: David Bradley

It didn't help that the entire way through this movie I was waiting for the lead character to say 'we had to lick the road clean with our tongues' like the Four Yorkshiremen from Month Python's famous sketch. I watched it after hearing BBC critic Mark Kermode rave about it repeatedly, and I can see the appeal even if it wasn't for me.

For a start, the film is very episodic. It's the story of a young boy in rural England in the late 1960s who finds something larger than himself to believe in when he captures and trains a kestrel.

Each scene seems a story in itself, none of them terribly critical as a cohesive whole when put together with the others as he deals with his bullish older brother, tries to navigate school life and steals a book on the training of birds of prey. While I'm sure it's an authentic look at the setting and period and the lives people led, it didn't make for a gripping story.

The second problem was that the accents and idioms of the speech were so thick it needed subtitles, like Kes writer/director Loach later did in Riff Raff. It added to the authenticity but also made it quite simply hard to keep up. For much more of the running time than I was comfortable with, I had no idea who the people were and how they were related to each other.

It also finished on a kind of dour and depressing note. Not that I expected a pat Hollywood happy ending, but if the film has a message, it seems to be that it's not worth having dreams. In complete contrast to the usual spirit of the triumph of individualism inherent in American movies, the circumstances of young hero Billy (David Bradley) simply take the thing that makes him happy away from him.

But the performances - while not quite brilliant - are raw and honest, and the film as a whole is very evocative of a time (still current to some extent) when England was a place of richly diverse lifestyles and accents that made it seem much bigger than it ever was.

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