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Review on Film: Kes (1969)

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What gives a touch of realness to Kes (1969) is that the actors used, including the extras were all locals coming from Barnsley, a town in South Yorkshire, England. Not to mention, the film was also shot on location. Kes was actually a 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, turned to a film. The author of the book is also Barnsley-born, Barry Hines. Both the film and the book captured the reality of the mining areas of Yorkshire at that time where the people in the area lived a tough life, a result of wage restraints and pit closures because of the blooming of oil and gas industry. The children, too, lived a rough childhood. Most of them were already thinking of having a job or like Billy Casper, whose already working as a paperboy, distributing newspapers from houses to houses. Kes has the elements of Italian Neorealism with that of using non-professional actors and having a sad ending. The film is about Billy Capser, finding solace with a kestrel which he named Kes, in the midst of lack of hope. In this analysis, the mise-en-scène, cinematography, and sound will be discussed.

Despite the film used non-professional actors, the acting came out naturally and effortlessly. This natural acting may come from the fact that the actors were the locals themselves and were conversing in Yorkshire accent which would be the most they were comfortable with. The overall colour tone of this film is rather cold and the lighting is of hard light. This sets off the right mood for the film since it portrays the tough life of the Barnsley locals where the people were always mad, harsh, lacking of love and hope. Billy Casper had a broken family with him constantly fighting with his older half-brother, Jud, having no father figure, and his mother who just didn’t expect much from her children and spoke of them in a regretful manner to her friends. The teachers at school never cared about the students and neither had hope in them. The students were always deemed as worthless and rubbish especially by the headmaster.

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This kind of toxic environment is hostile to children because they would grow up believing they are rubbish and in the end, they become one. But to spark hope amidst the darkness, Billy’s English teacher did show a sign of change and for the betterment of Barnsley’s children. Billy was never the kind to show interest in class and always gets himself into trouble but since he took a kestrel from a nest on a farm, ever since then he for once, love what he’s doing. One day, Billy did an impromptu talk about his kestrel and received positive feedback from the class and for the first time in the film, Billy felt appreciated. All of this thanks to his English teacher who encouraged and supported him to talk about the kestrel. The English teacher believed in Billy and didn’t just perceived him as a delinquent and thus, resulting in Billy having confidence in himself; what can be taken as a lesson.

The cinematography in this film consists of wide shots of Barnsley town with the starting scene of Billy running down the town establishing the condition of the town as dirty and worn-out. Chris Menges managed to beautifully portray the essence of Yorkshire by giving a perfect balance by showing wide shots of the sombre look of the mining industry and also the greener part of Yorkshire where Billy trained Kes. Other than that, The emotions of the actors were successfully delivered with medium close ups and shallow depth of field. This kind of shots are excellent to create an intimate moment with the characters as we delve deep down in their emotions. Plus, the harsh shadows surrounding the faces of the characters and also the surroundings further accentuate the whole essence of the film. Despite of Kes being a sad movie, the film still has the beauty of its own with the aesthetic value of the colour tone and also the camera work, which just adds a beautiful melancholic and nostalgic feeling and it will stay with you for as long as it will.

The film is shot in Barnsley and contains broad local dialects and even the actors themselves conversing in thick Yorkshire accent. There are some scenes in the DVD version that were dubbed with fewer dialect. In a 2013 interview, Ken Loach, the director of this film, said that during a screening by United Artists, the American executives that were watching it said that they could understand Hungarian better than the dialect in the film. This shows that Americans and the English people are not the same though they speak in English but because of the dialects. Kes’ audio compared to nowadays movie is that the audio feels distant from the characters as it’s not attached but that could be explained by the dubbing or it could just be the differences in audio recording technology.

Kes is a film that beautifully encapsulates melancholy with ending scene that shows Kes the kestrel died in the hands of revenge of Billy’s step brother, Jud. The death of Kes is felt dearly because Billy was at his happiest and most liberated that he would ever feel when he trained Kes and let him flew across the vast green field. When Kes died, it somehow showed that Billy would have to return back to the depressing reality of the abusive world. Though the sound is not as grand as today’s film, it didn’t budge the fact that Kes is indeed a work of art and is beautiful in its own way supported by the smooth narrative and stunning cinematography that enhances the whole mood of the film.


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