This is the story of a young 15 year old boy growing up in the working-class north of England in the late sixties. The hero, Billy Casper (David Bradley, All quiet On the Western Front, 1979) is having a hard time of it growing up, being bullied both at home and school. What we see is a young man trying to get by in his own way. Billy is no angel, he’s not above swiping milk from the delivery float. His family background is nothing to write home about, his father having left them many years previously, his older half-brother verbally abuses him and his mother sees him as a lost cause.

While on his meandering wonders one day he robs a kestrel chick. This triggers something. As he is too young for the library, he robs a book on Falconry and sets about learning what he can. His life is driven by a desire not to end-up down the mines like so many before him. Slowly as he rears the chick a bond takes hold and Billy start to come out of himself. There may be a purpose in life. His schoolwork starts to improve as his outlook improves.

The dour nature of life as portrayed can be seen in the “football” scene when his P.E. teacher (Brian Glover, The company of Wolves, 1984) is trying to instil some interest in the lads as against the day dreaming of world cups and football glory. We see him as one of those petty angry adults which seem to fill the lives of young people as they try to find their way about in life.

Things however take a turn when he is told to put a bet on certain horses. Billy unfortunately thinks the horses will lose and so buys food for himself and Kes. The horses win and Jud is extremely angry at losing him money. He exacts revenge in the most cruel way, hurting Billy where it hurts most.

Like many Ken Loach films it is not necessarily an easy film to watch initially. That said I was around the same age or younger than the hero of the peace when I first saw this movie. Back in the days of 1 TV land, I had to watch what my parents were watching and they wanted to watch this. Thankfully.
It showed me that cinema does not have to be all happy-clappy to be good. Life can be hard and it is not always just mindless entertainment. However this is not an overly bleak film, Glover’s P.E. teacher and Billy himself and his attitude provides some witty and humorous dialogue.

This is one of Loach’s earliest films after cutting his teeth on BBC radio plays and as with much of the output to follow over the years, it is his view of a grinding realism. There is a message here like with so much else of his work. There are a number of messages, from the individual’s perspective to the view of how society treats people. We are shown more than a few examples of how Billy and others are essentially victims of a society which seems to have other things on its mind. Looking at the cinematography it is cold and harsh, the scenes are grey and overcast much of the time.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that the sign of a good movie is one where you can watch the film without volume and still follow it. You can certainly do that here. This is not a fun film, it is not a rip-roaring comedy, it is a look at a bleak life which somehow does not turn you off, indeed it manages to affect you. This is genuinely one of the 10 best and possibly most influential British films over any time period. This is a gritty piece of neo-realism.

My Brother The Devil

My Brother The Devil was written and directed by relative newcomer; Sally El Hosani, although having been involved in the film and TV business this was her first leading activity in a movie, it is to here credit that the end result is an excellent product which deserves to stand tall among other films and movies being produced today. The film revolves around two brothers, the sons of Egyptian immigrants who a growing up on the estates of inner-city London. Older Brother Rashid (James Floyd, The Infidel, 2010) is one of the cool guys who runs with the local gangs, while his younger brother , Mo, (Fady Elsayed, Sixteen, 2013)looks up to his brother with a sense of wonderment and wants to follow in his footsteps. Rashid on the other hand does not want his brother following him, he wants better for his brother.

We see both sons as they look to find their respective places in society. Just as Rashid is trying to get out of the gang related life he is living, as he does this, we see just how little respect these people have for the individual as they happily drag in young Mo to run drugs and other errands . this happens as Rashid is moving away from the gangs and as he does so, meets Sayyid (SaΪd Taghmaoui, The Kite Runner, 2007) with whom, after some initial struggles,  Rashid and Sayyid begin a relationship, which ultimately strains the relationship between both brothers. While younger Mo is looking to find his way in life he struggles between the gangs, his more innocent teen friends and his older brother who now has the dark shadow of his sexuality hanging over him.

Both brothers must find their way in life, both must overcome the challenges ahead of them, but more importantly they begin to realise that their chances are better together. There is some subtly direction, the cool gang members are perhaps not as cool as they  might seem, are they just the usual “corner-boys”, nothing to live up to or as in the case of Rashid, actually something to grow out of.

This is a debut film, made on a budget with a cast that is only partially professional, if I was inclined to do so, I would find issue with this film and some of the actors in a few places, but the acting from the main characters is all excellent, the story is one which catches us, grabs us by the neck and does not let go until the end. Some people have discussed the impact of Islamic fundamentalism, while other have decried the “toughness2 of the local gang members, there is no Islamic message here, it is simply a story of two boys growing up in their own culture. The brothers just happen to be from an Egyptian background,  as and for the gang members not being overly hard; well it is Hackney not LA, what we see are kids growing up trying to be hard, a different thing. The movie has been compared to My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and I can see that, it might also stand comparison to Beautiful Thing (1996).

This is not a depressing film, rather it is engaging, sharply photographed and lean form a story telling perspective seek out the DVD or see if your service streams it.