While A Kestrel for a Knave begins with a sense of hope, it soon becomes clear that the novel and film are both ultimately about Billy’s defeat. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
The statement “While A Kestrel for a Knave begins with a sense of hope, it soon becomes clear that the novel and film are both ultimately about Billy’s defeat.” is one that I wholeheartedly concur with. A Kestrel for a Knave is a brilliantly written novel by Barry Hines that was successful in overcoming the issues of transference to film presented in From Page to Screen, and, though they are separate art forms, both adaptations (page and screen) capture superbly the bleak existence of Billy Casper, the initial hope and companionship brought by his pet Kestrel hawk but most of all his tragic defeat. As the novel progresses, his hope diminishes and is eventually extinguished in the final moments of both book and film. The film, in my opinion, through what is possible visually through the screen and the accompanying soundtrack amplifies the harsh reality of Billy’s life that the book simply cannot, also increasing the sense of hope that Kes brings. Unfortunately for readers it becomes apparent that the novel and film is about Billy’s inevitable defeat and the tragedy of this is increased by the fact that both page and screen adaptations of A Kestrel for a Knave undeniably begin with a sense of hope which is seen when Billy speaks to Mr Farthing’s class about how he trained Kes. In both the novel and film Billy is treated as a failure at school and unhappy at home; however he discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk. Billy identifies with her “silent strength” and she inspires and instils in him the trust and love that no-one else, not even his family can provide. Kes gives Billy a sense of satisfaction, achievement and the will to live another day while others is Billy’s position would have given up on life long ago. Kes is effectively Billy’s best friend and whom he spends most of his spare time with and as Billy has trained the hawk himself he feels a great sense of pride when speaking of Kes in Mr Farthing’s class. In the novel Mr Farthing coaxes Billy into speaking about the hawk, and when Billy begins his story he immediately changes. Though Billy lives with his mother and Jud his true closest companion is Kes, and whilst speaking about Kes his whole “school persona” of one word answers and mumbling disappears. For the first time at school, Billy is engaged as he is discussing his one true passion, the hawk. He sheds his lonely, independent shell and really opens up to the class. In the novel Hines changes his writing style to enhance the sense of emotion and attach the reader to Billy. In the film and novel we (like Mr Farthing) see in this scene Billy’s full potential, what person he could be if given the attention and care he deserves. Billy (vividly in the novel and expertly acted in the film) re-enacts Kes’ flights and states that “that’s it. I’d done it. I’d trained her. It’s a smashing feeling; you can’t believe that you’ll be able to do it but I did!” and is met with applause from his peers. In this we see that there is hope for Billy; that he will not have to “go down t’pit” as he states in the first scene with Jud and that his passion for life, his everything, is Kes. Kes is what is keeping him from defeat and against the odds he has found, in his circumstances, something to live for. Unfortunately following this scene where there is a sense hope are scenes where, as readers (and viewers) we realise the tragic situation that Billy is in and the story begins to become one of defeat. Billy is tasked to write a “tall story” by Mr Farthing; an “imaginary story” that “really get his imagination going” (pg. 87). Billy writes what is in reality what we would consider to be an average day. His interpretation of “something that is unbelievable and far-fetched” (pg. 88) is what we accept every day without...
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