Barry Hines and Animals

Barry Hines and Animals

While in the final year of her undergraduate degree in English Literature, Katie Goody undertook a research project on Barry Hines. Here she records in a series of short posts her reflections on the representation of animals in Hines’s work.

Kestrel for a Knave (1968) / Kes (1969)

When I began to study Hines’s texts, I became interested in the motif of animal presences. By taking into consideration the multiplicity of animals present in Hines’ texts, I was able to challenge Loach’s claim that the success of Kes (dir. Ken Loach 1969) was rooted in the ‘strong central image’ of the bird, instead revealing that animals play an important role in conveying everyday life (1).

When we learn that the main protagonist, Billy, has reared ‘stacks’ of animals: ‘a young fox cub…maggies, jackdaws…a young jay once too’ (2). It becomes apparent that Kestrel for a Knave is about the multiplicity of connections that the young boy has made throughout his life. Billy does not simply connect with one bird on one occasion. Billy’s interactions with animals are a part of livelihood, pertaining to a sense of freedom. In Loach’s film adaptation, Kes, the audience are not informed that Billy has reared other animals, meaning that the bird is far more central to Billy’s life.

Hines’ text, as opposed to Loach’s film, engages us far more in the poetics of the landscape through exploring the human-animal relations. If we resist the central image, Billy’s identity is unrestrained by temporality. This allows us to consider that in the past he has reared and trained a variety of different animals. The reader is hopeful that Billy will continue to interact with other life forms, unlike his mother and brother who make little effort to interact with Billy.

Hines writes of his own life experience in the afterword: ‘during bird nesting season, my pals and I would occasionally take a young magpie form a nest and try to rear it,’ failing this ‘a quick burial under a grass sod, it was soon forgotten’ (3).

At the end of Kestrel for a Knave, Billy buries Kes. By drawing on his own childhood experiences, Hines is able to authenticate the text and demonstrate that animal presences are fleeting but interactions would be repeated year upon year. When looking in the archives, I discovered a piece by Jon Wilde called Rare Bird. In this, Hines discusses his brother’s interest in birds. To authenticate the relationship between Billy and the kestrel in Kes (dir. Ken Loach 1969) we learn that Hines’s brother, Richard, helped David Bradley (Billy) to train the kestrel in order to establish a bond between human and animal. By ‘drawing on their own experiences…they had a remarkable ability to make a fictional situation believable in front of the camera’, ensuring that they were able to authentically reveal every day life. (4)

Taking these points into consideration, it is clear that by drawing on real-life experiences,
Hines was able to universalise his text without limiting it to central images. By drawing on childhood experience, the simplicity of everyday life and of nurturing life forms, children like Billy are able to cling on to some semblance of freedom and hope for the future.

(1) Jacob Leigh, The Cinema of Ken Loach: Art in the Service of People (London: Wallflower press, 2002), p. 121.
(2) Barry Hines, A Kestrel for a Knave, p. 143
(3) Barry Hines, Afterword, A Kestrel for a Knave, pp. 201-2
(4) Jon Wilde., Rare Bird

The Gamekeeper (1975/1980)

I will engage with Jonathan Burt’s claim that ‘animal presences are associated with ‘overcoming loss, family difficulties and a reintegration of identity’ and that ‘the animal comes to heal or compensate for loss or trauma’ in context of Hines’s The Gamekeeper. (2)

In this text, ‘the animal’ is subject to trauma and offers no respite for George and his family.

George Purse (Phil Askham) is in the process of rearing pheasants in The Gamekeeper (dir. Ken Loach 1980) and invites his two sons to tend to the chicks with him. Upon realising that some of the chicks are dead, George picks them up out of the cage, handing them to his sons to dispose of. George and his sons take no time to reflect on the death of these chicks. They must quickly overcome loss, confront family difficulties and reintegrate their identity as the gamekeeper’s children.

As a gamekeeper, George must ensure that his sons are desensitized to the death of animals to ensure that the family can survive financially.

George’s identity is challenged by his position in the social hierarchy. George is a predator of the animals that impinge on the land, but is preyed on by people such as The Duke, who has absolute control over George and the landscape. George occupies a precarious space where he is unable to assert his superiority, but he and his family must mercilessly fend off foxes, rabbits and, most shockingly, a greyhound in order to establish a sense of identity within the community. But as a result of this, George’s ethical standpoint is continually compromised, meaning that an audience struggle to sympathise with the Purse family.

(1) David Tucker, ‘Minor Parts: Animals and Social Realist Film’, University of Chester, (1.50 mins -7.00 mins) [accessed 19 May 2015]
(2) Jonathan Burt, Animals in Film (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), p. 5

Threads – Becoming the Animal

Threads (dir. Mick Jackson 1984) explores the decline of cohesive regional identity through animal presences. As society declines, basic survival is imperative. The blurring of the human and animal binary is caused by a necessity to survive.

Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that ‘every animal is fundamentally a band, a pack’ is not true of Threads. (1) As society slips ‘helplessly into barbarism’ producing ‘monstrous’ offspring in a world that is ‘ecologically and atmospherically incapable of facilitating humanity.’ (2) Each individual is rooting for themselves, stealing and fighting for any morsel of food, displaying an absolute disregard for everyone else around them.

In the post-apocalyptic space, Ruth, a dignified middle-class girl, gorges on anything she can lay her hands on, including rats and raw lamb. When she gives birth to her daughter, she tears her umbilical cord with her teeth, giving life to her like a primitive mammal. The abasement of man and perpetual decline of offspring, emphasised by Ruth’s child’s inability to communicate, demonstrates that the only way to survive is to become the lone animal. By stripping away the socio-political aspects of civilisation, man can no longer evolve or perpetuate life as it was once known to be.

Performing Animality: Animals in Performance Practices, p. 174, ed. by J. Parker-Starbuck, L. Orozco
(2) John, J. O’ Connor., ‘Threads review’ newspaper cutting held in Barry Hines Papers, Special Collections, University of Sheffield.

The Gamekeeper (pt 2)

Hines rejects the ‘Disney-fied’ view of animals in The Gamekeeper (dir. Ken Loach 1980) by exploring the tradition of gamekeeping and poaching in order to reinstate the human-animal binary (1). This is significant as contemporary texts often consider the animal to share a likeness with humans, but the relationship between humans and animals in this text is, rather, one of difference.

This difference is accentuated by George’s relationship with animals which is aptly captured by Williams, who writes: ‘Purse tenderly nurtures the pheasant chicks, but then casually snaps a rabbit’s neck and shoots a fox’ (2). This assertion of dominance and apparent control over the animal world illicit George’s sense of his own difference to these animals, who remain below him hierarchically. This is significant, as Hines uses animals to emphasise this ‘‘them-and-us’ stance’ that formed in working class areas and led to the breakdown of communities (3). Hines critiques inequality during a time when the working class were struggling to survive. This text reinstates, rather than complicates, both the human-animal binary and the middle class-working class binary by limiting the possibilities available to the animals and the working class, forcing them to suffer.

George Purse devotes his time to ‘organising, turning, regulating’ the pheasant eggs, ‘risking serious injury to protect them from poachers…And now he stood by the hedgerow at the edge of the wood and watched them tumbling out of the sky.’ (4) Even though George patrols the land, he is rendered powerless to intervene when The Duke is shooting the birds — that George has tenderly nurtured — for his sport. This disempowerment is emphasised by the fact that he just ‘stood by’ ‘at the edge,’ unable to resist. For the Duke, the birds that he shoots are mere trophies, not food sources to help him survive, unlike George who must rear these birds in order to survive financially. The Gamekeeper is less about gamekeeping and more about class-relations.

The episodic narrative signals the end of the shooting season, creating a tension between George’s sense of ‘relief,’ but also of ‘loss’, because of the ‘sudden void’ that makes itself apparent after he stops rearing the pheasants (The Gamekeeper, p. 139). George’s vocation, then, not only provides him with a source of financial income, but also one of emotional attachment. The exploration of the relationship between humans and animal allows Hines to explore emotional ambivalence towards everyday life. The rearing of animals, and in true Hines style, the focal male’s (Billy – Kestrel for a Knave, Jimmy – Threads) preoccupation with the bird, becomes an integral part of livelihood and survival.

The mimicry of the entrapped bird and of George is present in passages like this:
‘The opening was so small that the poults inside the pen never thought of trying to get out that way. But even those custom built entrances did not guarantee the bird finding its way back in’ (p. 138)

This passage allows us to consider that George’s opportunities are limited. He is simultaneously unable to transcend his working class roots as a gamekeeper but also unable to reconnect with his working class identity because of the secluded space he and his family occupy outside of the estate. An alternative way of life offers no guarantee of survival. George’s freedom is limited by this space in which the product of his hard work literally falls through space and time toward death. George and the birds he has reared are unable to survive in this in-between state because it is less about enjoying life, and more about surviving.

(1) Jonathan Burt, Animals in Film (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), p, 10.
(2) John Williams, ‘The Gamekeeper’, BFI screenonline, [accessed 19 May 2015], para. 2
(3) Eleanor Hines, ‘Movement to Change Minds’, Yorkshire Post (2013) [accessed May 19 2015]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *