1969, Movies

Kes (1969, Ken Loach)

This is the movie that made Loach’s career. It is often on lists of the greatest British films ever made. It’s set in a very specific place and time and is populated by people with extremely thick Yorkshire accents. There seems to be this idea that this is a family film, or a film kids could watch but I feel like it’s a little bleak for children.

This is a bleak coming-of-age film about a teenager in Yorkshire who lives with his mom and brother in such a small place that he shares his bed with his brother. It is about as damning an indictment of an education system as you are likely to see. I definitely found it more effective than The 400 Blows in that regard.

The film has a mostly very realistic, naturalistic feel to it. I don’t know if there’s ever been an official “new wave” of British cinema but it certainly feels apart of that kind of movement, to move away from artifice towards stories that are “real” or “true” or what have you.

That feel does break both with the soundtrack – which is weirdly jaunty and apparently contains some references I missed – and with the famous sequence with the gym teacher.

As everyone already knows, the film is anchored by the main performance of Billy, and is justly ranked among the better lead performances by a “child” (actually teen) actor in (English) film history. He is entirely convincing and never once do you feel like he is acting. But the same can be said for the rest of the cast, with one exception where the milkman trips up on his lines. (I think this was likely left in on purpose, as not everyone in real life has a comeback.)

As these things go, it is really well done. And it makes you very angry about the way kids in Yorkshire were taught in the 1960s. But I also just didn’t connect with it like I was expecting to. This is now, another time and place altogether, one very, very far from my own life. It almost feels like it’s from another century even though I was born only 13 years after it came out. I think the film has such a reputation that I was bound to be let down at least a little.

Still, I think it does stand up as one of the better coming-of-age films. And I do wonder if I had seen it early on in my film watching career, if it would have had a bigger impact on me.


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