24 July 2002 | jandesimpson
It would be easy to dismiss "The Gamekeeper" as a minor Ken Loach film. It does not generate quite so intensely the anger and frustration that are the hallmarks of this most politically conscious director's finest works such as "Ladybird, Ladybird" and "My name is Joe". Its canvas is small. It concentrates on a single character whose interactions with others, including his family, are usually treated as brief vignettes. There is almost a documentary matter-of-factness about the way the gamekeeper's everyday work patrolling the woods of a country estate, where nothing much happens apart from encounters with trespassers, is recorded. And yet, perhaps because of its austere and unswerving glimpse of a single character's attitude to his work and those around him, the film is anything but smallscale. The character of George, the gamekeeper, is complex and enigmatic. He has taken the job as a result of industrial redundancy and, although not particularly happy with his lot, he sublimates his dissatisfaction in an almost fanatical determination to keep the woods free of intruders. He is not a man to be crossed as trespassers from small children to adults discover to their cost. And yet he is a man with a certain degree of moral ambivalance, not above a little bribery in kind when he wants his window frame fixed at the estate's expense. The climax of his year comes at the big autumn game bird shoot when lords and masters reappear from abroad. George, dressed for the occasion with jacket and tie, stagemanages the event with fruity language that earns the mild rebuke from the Duke of "not in the presence of the ladies". We are in deepest "class" country here. But perhaps the most telling moment in the film occurs much earlier when the gamekeeper's wife complains of her lot, a townswoman trapped in the boredom of country life. As this is something her husband is unprepared to face, he attempts to justify everything. It is one of Loach's most chilling reminders of the plight of those unable to escape from "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate" situation that continues to haunt Britain to this day.