Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Gamekeeper (1980)

As with Kes, Ken Loach once again brings to the screen a novel by Barry Hines with The Gamekeeper, a film that essentially depicts the life of a man who is oblivious to the exploitation he is subject to as a result of the class system. As Hines said, the story was "about class, not gamekeepers. You don't have to say anything; you just show it".  And show it Loach does; this may not be his most obviously political film, but it is perhaps just as satisfying precisely because it is so understated in regards to its exploration of social inequality.

The film focuses on the eponymous character, former steelworker George Purse. Purse is a skilled and dedicated countryman as witnessed in the observational style Loach employs as Purse goes about his daily tasks, such as nurturing pheasant chicks, laying traps and snapping the necks of rabbits. But away from this, in his interactions, he is an ambivalent figure adrift and awkward in the world. His role means he is disliked by many in the village and local housing estate, who rue his unimpeachable approach to upholding the rights of the landed gentry and his fixed, intractable views on the trespassing and poaching that occurs on his lordship's estate. Though he is the same class as them, his position in the archaic feudal system means he sets himself both above them and apart from them, sometimes quite oblivious to the fact that he works long hours for a pittance and little thanks from the duke who is so rarely in residence. One key scene set in a pub, the first in which the inequalities of the system are implicitly demonstrated by Loach and Hines, sees Purse's friend point out that the duke doesn't have, as he believes, the right to protect the land as he sees fit because "it weren't their land in the first place". It's clear from this scene, and Askham's subtle reaction, that Purse is unsettled by the suggestion, rocking his previously assured world view.

Wisely though, these things do not come to a head, as both Loach and Hines are aware that life will go on for the likes of Purse. The only pay off we see is in the film's fitting conclusion which highlights how little reward there is for Purse as we see him returning home after the annual pheasant shoot to a frozen pie his wife has left out for him, whilst she is called to prepare the banquet at the big house for the duke's shooting party guests. 

The Gamekeeper is a beautifully shot documentarian style piece boasting excellent cinematography from Chris Menges that captures  not only the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, but also the gamekeeper's duties - so be warned, some scenes are not for wildlife and countryside lovers who are faint of heart.

Lastly, just the other week John, my next door neighbour, passed away. I've known him all my life and it's going to be strange not seeing him pottering around in his front garden each day. In many ways Purse reminded me of him; like Purse, John, was a true northerner, who spoke in a thick Lancastrian accent fast diminishing and was well versed in country matters. He owned a plot on 'the moss', the hills at the back of our terraces, he was a market gardener, a pigeon fancier and a greyhound racer in his time. His love and knowledge of all things flora, fauna and animal was a joy to behold. *Raises a glass* here's to you, John. RIP.

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