our film reviews: from armchair viewing to the festival front row

14 November 2006

[Reel-Reviews] Kes (4 stars)

Having watched Kes recently, I’ve been meaning to review it for a few days – but the more I think about it the more I’ve struggled with what to write. I’ve come to the conclusion that the film just gets more complex and opaque with time. Did the film stand up to scrutiny after nearly 40 years? Yes. Because of its age do we judge it more harshly, or do we give it sympathy points? Neither, maybe. See what I mean? It’s complicated.

Some themes:

Childhood obsession – Billy’s utter focus on the bird to the exclusion of most other things, exemplified by his only show of school enthusiasm being his talk on the kestrel

Taking the direct approach – Billy wants to know more about birds, so steals a book on birds when he can’t borrow one, and takes a bird to train

The link between Kes and Billy – Both locked in a cage, both at their best when free and outdoors

Indoors/outdoors – All the good things that happen to Billy are outside, while all the bad things happen inside

Hopes and dreams – Billy survives by satisfying his immediate needs, but are his hopes and dreams projected onto the bird, wishing the bird to do well rather than himself? The interest of his English teacher carries Billy’s enthusiasm into adulthood, almost as a validation

And the big question - what happens to Billy after the end of the film?...

[Oh, and Billy Elliot owes a good deal to Kes and Ken. Watch both and see what I mean!]

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