The 100 best British films

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Time Out counts down the best British films, as chosen by the film industry

By Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston and David Jenkins, with Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Adam Lee Davies, Gareth Evans, Paul Fairclough and Wally Hammond. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.

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Kes (1969)

Dir Ken Loach (David Bradley, Lynne Perrie, Freddie Fletcher)

The hawk ascending

As the tide of the 1960s began to recede, taking with it all that class-obsessed ee-by-’eck pub-jazz new wave chest-beating that had threatened to drag British cinema into some kind of socialist-modernist-industrial nightmare, the real realists were revealed, sitting quietly and waiting for someone to notice. And chief among them was (and still is) Ken Loach, this country’s most relentless cinematic artisan, 47 years at the cultural coalface and still no sign of flagging.

‘Kes’ was Loach’s second feature film, and just a few years later he was struggling to make work for cinema at all: proof, perhaps, that honesty isn’t always the best policy. Because ‘Kes’ is, if nothing else, a powerfully honest piece of work, in its performances and relationships, its treatment of trapped lives, its sad-eyed acceptance of human failings. It’s trite but true to say that Billy Casper stands for the crushed child in all of us, with his beloved kestrel as the soaring soul that school, work, family and society conspire to kill quietly in the woodshed.

But this isn’t the true horror of the film. Because Loach is not just suggesting that Billy’s fate is inevitable, but that it’s necessary: in order to survive in this world of barking gym teachers, harried parents and brutalised big brothers (each of them once as open and inspired as Billy), he’ll have to take his lumps and like it. And so ‘Kes’ remains devastating, the peak of British realism and one of the most heartbreaking works in all of cinema. TH

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