Kes ★★★★½

A remarkably achieved small tragedy, hued as in life with laughter and diversion; at at its heart a lack of opportunity amid systemic social failure. It startles in its simple sadness. 

The brutal wasteland of Billy’s young life - peopled by his neglectful Mother, brutish older brother and sundry bullying teachers - points to the generational waste created by a system, educational and social, that is structured by rote not individualism. If only, it says, Billy were given teaching more like that from Mr Farthing than the short-sighted factory-farming thrashed out by the Headmaster, things might be different. Jud might not be the semi-thug he is had his mind been opened and somehow set alight at school rather than a life down the pit (of course whether schooling in any form is merely indoctrination for the cannon fodder of tax serfdom is a discussion for another film and another day...)

It’s that terrible circle of blame: the parent not the child. But the parents were young once too and probably let down as much as their sires are now - and so it goes on. ‘If I can’t have it, then you’re not going to either’ appears to be the deadening motto here, or more kindly: if you don’t open the window even an inch how can you expect the atmosphere inside to change.

Of course striking a balance between generalised lessons in, say, mathematical aptitude and something that sets alight a child’s nascent imagination or ability, is a tricky one and true it is that you can’t be simplistic or utopian about these things. But something is definitely wrong with the status quo and Kes succinctly taps into this failing making it manifest amid the petty cruelties and brutal banalities of school life. Sadly it’s a problem that probably hasn’t changed much fifty years later.

A word for the performance of Lynne Perrie who brought a reality to her few roles - here, Leeds United! and much of her Coronation Street work. A type of actress brought up through a route now largely absent: that of working mens’ clubs or the cabaret circuit. Whatever hard knocks that environment created, or drawing from personal experience, she felt, looked and sounded real (despite a rather tragic end to her life).

Loach has a special gift for identifying such people - Glover more spectacularly in this film - and eliciting something from them that speaks to a truth. A rough gem of a film.

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