Kes ★★★★

The Chain 2021-22 #166 from Threads via Barry Hines

My memory of Kes is of it being another piece of classic Ken Loach miserabilism, not that I have anything against that, after all, that's life, and Loach tells it like it is. But, actually, this is not a miserable film, at least not entirely.

Billy Casper is a scrawny little kid, on the verge of leaving school, in which he has no interest, and being thrown out into the big, wide world into a job in which he also has no interest. The only thing he knows he absolutely does not want to do, is to go down the mines, like his older, much bigger brother Jud, with whom he is forced to share a single bed. And yet at the same time he knows, as do we, that he is destined to spend his working life underground, you can't outrun your fate, so he's not going to even try.

It's hardly surprising he's this way, he's surrounded by bullies, thugs, and sadists. Jud enjoys nothing more than literally pushing his weedy brother around, the headmaster of his school doesn't have the imagination to do anything more than thrash the children he's charged with educating, and as for the sports master (the magnificent Brian Glover), his idea of lessons is to dress up as Bobby Charlton, playing centre forward, captain, and referee, hog the ball, and barge all the pupils around, although he might well be teaching them an important life lesson, without even knowing it.

But while Billy seems to be on this inevitable road to nowhere, a chance encounter with a kestrel sparks an interest, perhaps the first one ever in his life, which may just save him. Even if he does end up hacking away at the coalface for the rest of his working life, at least he'll have something else to live for, other than heading down to the pub of a weekend to get pissed. Or maybe, just maybe, there is hope for him after all, that he might now see that he can choose a different way for himself.

Or maybe that hope gets snuffed out by a brutal act of retribution, one not committed in the red-hot heat of anger, but one that was considered, and calculated to cause as much pain as possible.

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