Thursday, 11 September 2008


My son and I finished watching Ken Loach's Kes this evening. My wife bought me this video years ago, but I have never felt strong enough to watch it, aware of how much it traumatised me when I first saw it.

It was obviously a very different experience for my son to watch it. It is a piece of historical fiction for him, set in the grim past where teachers caned and bullied you and every passing adult felt entitled to give you a slap.

But I spent my teens in the north of England (though not in the West Riding of Yorkshire where it is set) and moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in a period roughly contemporary to the making of the film (1969). It seemed all too horribly familiar. The sadistic sports teacher, the arbitrary cruelty, the feeling of hopelessness. The shabby modernity of the school. The grimness. The soul-destroying greyness. The shimmering beauty of the countryside in comparison.

The urge to escape.

But I had forgotten how suddenly the film ends. The suddenness is deliberate of course and was no doubt an attempt to steer well clear of any sentimentality or obvious storytelling. But I don't think it works. It is fiction after all. It is not a documentary.

An ending does not have to be upbeat, but it does have to be more than the place where the credits roll.

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