The debut of any director is a tough enough challenge. Excitement and a larger than life vision can often buckle under budgetary restraint, production disputes or just a general fallout of ideas. Sometimes a concept will look better on paper than in reality. Kes isn’t such a piece, the debut of director Ken Loach. An adaptation of Barry Hines’ book, A Kestral for a Knave, the intricacies found within Kes make for tremendous viewing. A slice of life from a boy growing up in the North of England will prove interesting for those growing up in the area, and nostalgic for those that have already entered the middle ages of life.
Dai Bradley stars as Billy, an errant schoolkid with the world on his shoulders. Entering the final stages of his schooling life, he finds himself at the crossroads, the lingering notion that he must choose a future career, and fast. Blending the worries Billy has with his troublesome family life, a knack for mischief and the sudden acquiring of a kestrel, Kes has a lot to offer up, and wastes no time at all in delving deep into the various hidden notions and ulterior motives of his family, friends and superiors.
An effective leading performance makes Kes an easily engaging film. Audiences should have no issue whatsoever in delving deep into the rich lands and industrialised fields of Northern England. I myself come from the North East, but I wasn’t born for another thirty years after the making and setting of Kes. There are glimmers of similarity between my early life and the early life of Billy, though, and that’s perhaps why I feel so fond of Kes. That crossroads, having no clue what to do with your life and being at a complete loss is a feeling that has plagued me for years. Even now, as I work my way through University, there’s always the lingering thought in the back of my mind that it may not have been the right choice.
Nobody will know for sure though, and that’s a feeling that rings throughout Kes. That uncertainty is at the forefront of every decision made throughout. A great leading performance coupled with some strong direction from Loach makes for a decent blend. It borders a coming of age story, and would be so if it weren’t for the bleak, unfiltered and unmoving story. There’s no growth, and Kes takes up a rather pitiful, bleak, and perhaps realistic stance to youth in the late 1960s. No salvation to be had, no opportunity for greater things even if you possess the talent to do so, it’s a desolate and denude area for chance.
I feel a bit claustrophobic when I watch Kes. My greatest fear in life is squandering potential. I feel like I may just do that, not on purpose, but by inaction or the reaction of others. Time will tell, but Kes hits a few chords of fear within me. I doubt that was the intention of Loach, to scare a twenty-something teen into writing into the early hours of the morning in the hopes of landing a dream he’s not confident in. Either way, Kes has certainly had some form of impact, whether that’s a positive or negative influence is beside the question of its ability to create a lasting impression.