‘Kestrel in the Gallery’
The ad shows an Arab king parking a falcon on his outstretched , gloved left hand. Its an air-line ad. You guessed it right! Only a proper owner can own and maintain a proper bird. A shehensha can keep an eagle, no-one lesser in status.
Ken Loach’s most popular film “Kes” made in 1969 had to wait in limbo for several years for a full-fledged release. The film’s hero, a 14 year boy named Billy Casper hailing from an under-privileged background not only owns a Kestrel (falcon) but trains it too. He is a much unloved kid living in a miners’ village. He is considered as a perfect misfit at school and as a “hopeless case” by his single mother. In fact, she can’t care less as she is too busy going out and getting drunk with her boyfriends. Naturally Casper’s elder brother rules the broken home and he is a loutish bully.
At the school too, Casper is at the receiving end of hostilities. As in a class-biased education system, the teachers are unsympathetic. The students are subjected to a barrage of verbal abuse and corporal punishment on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Casper is not really articulate and hence cannot defend himself.
However, Billy Casper is certainly not an also-ran. He wants to say good-bye to school, by all means, but doesn’t want to end up as a coal-digger. He is a sensitive kid. He has got a rich inner life under-wraps. Luckily for him, Casper locates a kestrel at the nearby farm and he gently takes care of the bird. Kes is her name. Since falconry is the preserve of the elite, he doesn’t have any idea how to train Kes. He goes to the Library where he is turned back for want of right credentials. Undaunted, he makes a bee-line to a second-hand book-shop and steals the book.
Ken Loach’s brilliance is conspicuous in this characterization. Bill Casper is not larger-than-life. He has got all vulnerabilities of a normal kid.
What follows next is seen to be believed. Its not the text-book training of the bird. Its the bond between a human-being and another living being! There exists a perfect understanding between them. An example of treating everything with respect.
A communion with Nature which the system has been denying Casper all the way is within his reach now. Suddenly his life has a purpose.
He has proved himself. He is articulate and brimming with energy.
Kes is more than just a pet, she is the symbol of Hope and Freedom.
The change in Casper is detected at least by one teacher, Mr.Farthing who goes straight to the shed where Kes is kept. The English teacher too is overwhelmed by the sacred bond between Man and Nature.
“I think she’s doing me a favour just letting me sit here and watch her”, he remarks.
Incidentally, Colin Welland who played Mr. Farthing is the only professionally trained actor in the whole cast. Rest of them, including David Bradley who donned the lead are facing the movie-camera for the first time.
Yes, Cinema- 24 frames per second - belongs to the Director, no doubt!
However, the tragedy is waiting.
The system, offended by Casper’s newly acquired freedom counter-attacks.
Kes, the symbol of Hope is killed by the elder brother. Brutally and without remorse.
Ken Loach leaves his viewer shell shocked and devastated.
I closed my eyes and just listened to the excellent music created by strings and flute.
I didn’t have the nerve to watch the goings on in the final scenes!
Note: The title is sourced from one of Jethro Tull’s albums “The Minstrel in the Gallery”