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Known today as one of the United Kingdom’s best films, Kes displays unforgettable themes of passion, ambition, and parting from boyhood. A masterpiece of 20th century film, Ken Loach’s adaptation of the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave continues to resonate with its audiences. Kes was one of Loach’s first feature films he directed specifically for cinema. Throughout his career, Loach has often been recognized for his socialist views and the application of those views within his films. Both the problems of poverty and labor rights exist throughout Kes with the locker-room scene and the job interview scene. These social issues become as important to the film as the central plot of Casper training Kes. Other films of his such as Cathy Come Home (1966) and The Navigators (2001) also demonstrate social problems of poverty and labor rights. Unlike typical Hollywood films, Kes displays grim moments and a heartbreaking ending. Loach never turned away from the opportunity to display real-life problems in his films.
Language and sound play significant roles in the production of Kes. Loach’s decision to use varying non-diegetic sounds to bring the upheaval of different moods adds to the story as a whole. During darker, sadder scenes the presence of background sounds increases an empathetic emotion towards Casper. Similarly, the presence of fast passed music, as Casper is trying to hide from his crazed brother, produces stronger tension in the scene. In addition to background music, the specific authentic Yorkshire accents provides a set style for the film. Although Loach’s decision to use genuine accents was frowned upon by many American critics, the dialect shaped the movie and made it what it is. The dialogue allowed for the audience to be present in each scene and to feel a part of the plot, rather than just a person watching a movie.
Chris Menges’ phenomenal cinematography only adds to the many other outstanding aspects of this film. Menges’ decision to use wide shots really sets up the town perfectly. The audience easily creates an image in their head of what the town looks like, as if they have been there themselves. Menges often uses tracking shots to follow Casper as he runs around the town, tries to hide from Jude, or looks for Kes. This gives the audience a sense that they are running alongside Casper and actually feel a part of the intense searches (or escapes).
Although the film’s plot lacks complete focus and consistency, especially in comparison to other films, Loach successfully portrays strong themes throughout the entirety of the film. He effectively draws the audience’s attention and holds their interest even without a conventional plot structure. The film follows a young boy named Billy Casper and his struggle through his everyday life. He constantly has obstacles before him that should prohibit him from success; however, Casper’s wit and quick thinking solve most of his problems. He decides one day to train a kestrel from a nearby farm. With his stolen book as guide, he slowly, but surely trains his bird Kes. Interestingly, though, this film offers much more than a story about a boy with his pet bird. In fact, it really is not about the bird at all. The bird could be a symbol for the human soul and boyhood. As Casper trains Kes it becomes obvious that this give and take, equal relationship between the boy and the bird symbolizes how Loach believes learning should be done. Loach provides the juxtaposing example of Casper’s school experience to show how mistaken the school was when it came to learning, growing and teaching. One of the more powerful moments within the film is when one of Casper’s teacher allows him to stand in front of his class and explain how he trains his kestrel. It was this moment where the two different scenarios were becoming one and Casper could stand proud of his accomplishments.
Another prominent theme is Casper’s awareness and understanding that Kes is a hawk. He never asks her to change her nature. He simply regards being a part of her existence as a gift. Casper explains this in a precious scene with both Kes and his teacher. This idea Casper points out could also represent his personal desires. He wants to do what he loves and be who he is. He struggles being confined to what the school believes he should be. He doesn’t understand why he must spend money on clothing for football when he does not like football. He would much rather spend his hard-earned money on Kes, something he loves and cares for deeply. He wants to let himself and others around him live how they want and appreciate being present through the process.
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