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Gamekeeper, The (1980)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Gamekeeper, The (1980)
ATV for ITV, tx. 16/12/1980
80 minutes, colour
DirectorKenneth Loach
Adaptation Barry Hines
Director of PhotographyChris Menges
 Charles Stewart

Cast: Phil Askam (George Purse); Rita May (Mary); Andrew Grubb (John); Peter Steele (Ian); Michael Hinchcliffe (Bob); Philip Firth (Frank)

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George Purse is the gamekeeper for the duke's estate, a role he takes seriously. His position gives him a certain status, but he has an uneasy relationship with some of the locals, not least those who turn to poaching.

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The Gamekeeper was based on Barry Hines' 1975 novel of the same name. As Hines put it, both book and film "were about class, not gamekeepers. You don't have to say anything; you just show it". With the aid of cinematographer Chris Menges, Ken Loach filmed the beautiful countryside and the gamekeeper's activities with the same documentary realism he had earlier brought to Kes (1969), his first collaboration with Hines.

The film focuses on the eponymous character, former steelworker George Purse. Purse moves awkwardly between two worlds: the local housing estate and village, where he is disliked by many because of his general boorishness and strong views on poaching; and the duke's estate on which he lives and works long hours for poor pay, in a cottage that is in constant need of repair.

Loach reinforces these tensions throughout the film. Purse tenderly nurtures the pheasant chicks, but then casually snaps a rabbit's neck and shoots a fox. Although the countryside looks beautiful and teems with life, it is relentlessly managed - the documentary-style captions ("Summer - Rearing the Pheasant Chicks") appear to relate to the seasons but are actually concerned with the management of the estate and the continuation of those traditional activities imposed upon the land by the gentry. Although Purse initially thinks the duke's family have a right to protect their own land, a pub acquaintance's comment that "It weren't their land in first place" clearly disturbs him.

Purse remains an ambivalent figure. He seems to perceive the futility of rearing the pheasants while at the same time arranging the contrived method of their slaughter, and although he questions the ownership of the land he continues to uphold the rights of the gentry. He not only arrests poachers but, in a telling moment, he even gently scares off a couple of bluebell picking schoolgirls who live on the nearby housing estate.

In a fitting final scene, Purse is left on his own to heat up a processed meal while his absent wife helps to prepare a banquet for the duke - he reaps few of the benefits of his work on the land. The understated nature of The Gamekeeper belies its power, and it was made all the more effective at the time for being slipped into the ATV schedules in a peak-time slot where it could easily be mistaken for a nature documentary.

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. 'Don't give me trespassing!' (5:00)
2. Poachers (3:13)
3. The grouse shoot (4:02)
Hines, Barry (1939- )
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
Ken Loach: Television Drama