Based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines, and scripted by Hines, Loach, and Tony Garnett, Kes introduces us to young Billy Casper, a working class schoolboy growing up in a mining area of Yorkshire. Bullied at home by his older brother Jud, marginalised and ignored, Casper is struggling to pay attention in school. Billy and Jud's lives are, according to their own mother, ‘hopeless cases’. A bleak and listless existence of grinding work, no prospects, petty fighting and theft is all that Billy has to look forward to.
That is until Billy finds a kestrel in a farm’s nest and decides to take it, naming it Kes. Stealing a book to learn how to raise and train the bird, Billy finally finds something he is good at and wants to do, though sadly grief looms.
Kes is not one of Loach’s more overtly political or polemical features, but themes that have been constant throughout his work nevertheless still prevail, as does his fascination with the drama and poetry inherent in everyday lives. Billy is seemingly unremarkable and with little ambition for himself or belief that anything will get better. His relationship with Kes changes this as it shows him he is capable of something and is not just simply good for nothing, and a quiet fury at the many children like Billy that are deemed worthless and discarded by society pervades.
Loach is one of the most respected directors working in the naturalistic style. He doesn’t impose upon viewers how they should be thinking or feeling, or rely on big dramatic acting. The film mainly rests on the slim shoulders of David Bradley as Billy and he is more than up to the task. Loach coaxes exceptional performances out of all of his cast and is ably supported by sterling work from the director of photography Chris Menges and composer John Cameron. It all ensures Kes never strays into sentimentality but instead feels authentic and real, earning your emotional investment.
Funny, wise, touching and bristling with anger about wasted lives, Kes remains a vital piece of British cinematic history.
Extras on this release include amongst others a lengthy 1992 NFT interview with Loach, as well as interviews with cast and crew, and with the restoration of the film supervised by Loach and Menges, it’s highly recommended.
KES / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: KEN LOACH / SCREENPLAY: BARRY HINES, KEN LOACH, TONY GARNETT / STARRING: DAVID BRADLEY, FREDDIE FLETCHER, LYNNE PERRIE, COLIN WELLAND, BRIAN GLOVER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW