A masterful film, one of Ken Loach
's first, it was released in 1969. Adapted from the novel A Kestrel for a Knave
by Barry Hines
, it tells the story of Billy Casper (played by David Bradley
), a lonely working-class teenage boy in a Yorkshire
mining town. Billy comes from a broken home
and is bullied at school, but when he finds a baby kestrel
(which he christens Kes) he decides to raise it, with the help of a stolen book on falconry
. Kes provides Billy with an escape from the tedium and wretchedness of his life to date, and he develops a bond with the bird, and an aptitude for falconry
. After he brings Kes to school one day he catches the interest of english teacher Mr Farthing (Colin Welland
) who encourages and helps him. Unfortunately the film ends with a tragic twist, with Billy condemned to a brutal home life and his options limited by lack of money, support and family stability.
Kes is one of the best British films of the 60s, as it demonstrates life in a working class mining community, many of which have since changed out of all recognition after the pit closures of the 1980s and 90s. Ken Loach hired mostly non-professional local actors, which embues the film which a reality, and allowed the Yorkshire dialect to reign free, which few British films had done in the past. David Bradley gives a fine performance, and the scenes in the local comprehensive are compusively watchable. The cinematography also captures the bleak, northern industrial landscape perfectly. Most importantly the film is never allowed to lapse into the sentimentality characteristic of many "child with pet" films. One of the most fondly remembered parts of the film is the enactment of Manchester United vs Spurs football game on the school pitch, where Brian Glover -playing a maniac P.E teacher - lives out his footballing fantasies.
Along with Cathy Come Home this film made Ken Loach's reputation and he continues to make films to this day, although Kes remains his most popular and best known work, and was recently voted one of the top 100 films of all time by viewers of the British televison station Channel 4.