Ken Loach’s ‘Kes’ (1969)

An unconventional coming-of-age story is presented in an extremely naturalistic form through the mastery of Ken Loach’s early work Kes. A film out of the United Kingdom, most notably notorious for the accents used by the towns people, is much more than a heartbreaking tale of an adolescent struggling through his childhood torments. Loach gives his audience an observance of working class life while examining a generation’s oppressed state through politics and society life.

Consisting mostly of unprofessional actors, Ken Loach understands the difference between a film about working class life, and a film showing working class life. With this in mind, he captures the everyday routines and people made up of the society he documents. By doing this, the structure and characters in Kes unfold into a fluid narrative with crucial undertones and implications of societal issues.

David Bradley undertakes the role of Billy, a scrawny and smart-mouthed youth, working a newspaper job and attending school while suffering through the bullies of both his family (brother) and school (teachers and students). His sole escape from his tormented life seems to be through his only friend, Kes, a falcon found nearby a farm, who gives him the only comfort he’s granted from anyone. Billy feeds him, plays with him, trains him, talks to him and treats him as personally as a family member. His encounters at school serve as testimony to his hatred for social workings. He loathes the idea of attending school, yet finds the same distaste for holding a job. Teachers mistreat him, abuse him, insult him and even provoke others to do the same. No one really knows why Billy attracts so much attention, yet he does.

Now, backtracking to what was said earlier: the societal undertones of which this narrative structure lends itself to may be found within our protagonist, Billy. He is a newcomer of the upcoming generation. A youth oppressed by elders or even just by people who look older. This oppression represents the wasted talent of the youth due to older generations’ lack of opportunity given out. The teachers, adults and even workers undermine these children and compress them down below human standards of dignity. One particular scene comes to mind when Billy is trapped in the locker room showers, attacked by fiercely cold water from all shower heads pointing at him, due to the harsh tactics of his gym teacher attempting to prove his manliness to a child.

Yet, though an extremely sad portrayal of a child facing adversity, this remains a coming-of-age story. The redeeming factor is Kes, Billy’s falcon. By the end of the film he confronts a tragedy and deals with the situation not as a child, but as a man. For this reason alone, the film turns out be extremely heart warming and redemptive.

Thank you for reading,

Omar Antonio Iturriaga