A flock of oiks
The year is 1969 and Ken Loach offers us this, his second and most overtly political film. With little attempt to disguise it, Kes is a thinly layered allegorical tale reinforcing Loach’s belief that Britain should be ruled by an iron-fisted blue-blooded privileged elite.
Loach is famed for magnificent tales of the British nobility’s god-given right to rule over us, with a style that is both colourful and elaborate. Many believe that we can pinpoint Kes as the catalyst for his developing style, his epiphany, his moment of clarity. Personally I prefer Loach when he sticks to his saucy rom-coms, but there is no accounting for personal preference in the cold expanse of the Film Review.
The film focuses on the titular Kes, king of the Bird People, who pays a visit to the inhabitants of a little-known British backwater called Yorkshire. There he encounters many of the impoverished plebs who live therein and he gathers them together to make pronouncements on the nature of monarchy, religion, the feudal system and why it is important to have a true and proper ranking structure. Most of the dirty oiks pay no heed to the bird, a beautiful peacock (hence the name Kes), largely because they cannot understand his curious squarking. One small boy, however, furiously takes notes and soon a friendship of sorts is born. The boy’s name is Billy, in accordance with the rest of his family, all the people in the town and indeed every person to ever feature in a Loach film. Tradition is a marvellous thing in the working classes.
Naturally, a regal and majestic king such as Kes cannot be seen fraternising too closely with a boy from the lower classes, even if one is a bird and the other is a glorified ape, it just wouldn’t do for morality and whatnot, of either race.
Yes please, two
Young Billy is instructed to compile all the lectures Kes delivers and publish them in some form of anthology, so that the human people can read them at their leisure in their local library. Unfortunately, young Billy does not understand how to get a book published, where or indeed what a library is, nor does he know how to read and write. Indeed it emerges that Billy’s “notes” of the lectures Kes has delivered are in fact a series of crude Desperate Dan caricatures and doodles of birds with big penises. Furious, Kes punishes Billy by making him take a freezing cold shower, a custom he learnt from Billy’s arch nemesis, the cruel school-master ‘Sur’.
“Ur nur, Sur,” pleads Billy in his thick Yorkshire drawl, as Sur delivers the cruel punishment. “Twernt me Sur, never dun’t, Sur… an’ me mam sez mustn’t’tn’t uv sh’wers, tit be weerst uff good drinkin witter”. In this powerful, bewildering and slightly pornographic scene, we learn that young Billy, though possessing the body of a small 13 year old boy, has the voice of a grizzled 50 year old forty-a-day Yorkshire miner. Which is, of course, the future both Kes and the British institution has rightly laid out for wee Billy.
Love at first flight
Much of the film is unintelligible, at least when the paupers are speaking, though this is undoubtedly a political message from Loach, who has long campaigned for the vote to be withdrawn from those in possession of fewer than 30 acres of land. Indeed at times the political message of the film threatens to overshadow the storyline and as it finally shudders to a brutal conclusion with the murder of young Billy (whose neck is broken by his own brother) we are subjected to a lengthy lecture imposed over the end credits. Though notionally delivered by Kes, the narrative voice is clearly that of Loach himself, as the bird ruminates on the untrustworthy characters of the lower orders, the failings of “free-will” and the tirade essentially boils down to little more than a list of reasons why the introduction of the caste system in Britain might not be such a bad thing.
Since Old Rope was not alive in 1969 I have not seen Kes, but I give it two fingers.