Kes (1969 – Blu-Ray)

“I saw ‘er flyin’, she came like a bomb, about a yard off floor, like lightning”

A few weeks ago, I viewed Ken Loach’s powerful 1969 polemic ‘Kes’ for the first time on a DVD from MGM.  I loved the story but the image quality was like that of a battered old VHS that had been dropped into a puddle and the sound would’ve been captured better on a wax cylinder.  Knowing that my new Sony-Vaio laptop with Blu-Ray drive was in the post, I was aware that I could now view imported American Blu-Rays.  So I decided to make my first purchase a copy of the Criterion Collection’s restored HD version of ‘Kes’ and hold back writing my review until after I’d watched it.

I can now say that the US Blu-Ray is a revelation, a totally different film experience from the UK DVD.  The cinematography now has the autumnal colour palette and romantic feel of a Rembrandt painting and you can bask in the splendour of the image clarity.  The sound is also improved to the point were you can detect the merest rustle of leaves and the clink of milk bottles in the restored original production audio track.  The final surprise was noticing that a massive chunk of the image was actually missing all around on the DVD I viewed!  To think that a film this good (Ranked the BFI’s seventh best Brit flick ever no less!) is only viewable to its native audience in the shoddy version I first saw, it is a crime against Cinema!

Here is a comparison I made of the picture quality.  Notice the huge missing sections of the image above and to the left (Click to enlarge):

The best thing about ‘Kes’ is the earthy poetry of the Barnsley dialect used by Loach’s cast of local unknown’s. Lines like “For another, they wouldn’t ‘ave a weedy little twat like thee” are almost akin the baudy prose of Shakespeare.  Acting wise, the late Brian Glover almost steals the show in one scene, with his gruff P.E. teacher character, cheating so he win over his pupils, imagining himself to be Bobby Charlton.  I said almost, because young David Bradley‘s lead performance as little Billy Casper is heartbreakingly real, a gifted boy ready to soar like his Kestrel named Kes if his spirit isn’t crushed by the deprivation of the world around him.  Loach shows Billy’s talents for ornithology, gymnastics and even lecturing but they go almost unnoticed by his family, his teachers and the education system in general.  ‘Kes’ deserves its place in the BFI’s top ten but it deserves better care from the studio that made it.


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