When lists are made of the best ever British films, it’s almost certain that Ken Loach’s 1969 adaptation of the Barry Hines novel A Kestrel for a Knave would appear on them – and rightfully. Kes stars David Bradley in one of cinema’s greatest child performances, playing Barnsley school lad Billy Casper, a small skinny boy in raggedy clothes who’s kicked around by his family, local residents, teachers, classmates and life generally.
But things change for the boy when he discovers a Kestrel fledgling, which strikes an interest in falconry. We see him in the beauty of the countryside training the bird, the only true shining light in this unfortunate young boy’s life. These scenes aren’t covered in sappy Disney treacle, but have a truthfulness to them which make me emotionally invested in Billy every time I watch the movie
This emotionally touching story is masterfully directed by Loach who expertly gets real performances from mostly non-actors and northern comics from the working men’s club circuit – several of which managed to develop successful television acting careers. Lynne Perry, who played Billy’s mum, would go on to have a recurring role in British soap Coronation Street.
The film’s standout sequence is the football match, “Manchester Utd Vs Spurs,” which reminds me of the P.E lessons I had with a similar bullying teacher and is played with furious anger by former wrestler-actor Brian Glover in a scene that encapsulates the true horror of outdoor sports in the middle of winter.
Chris Menges’s naturalistic cinematography contrasts the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside with the ever-looming harshness the coal industry had over the community. The film, for a certain generation (which I include myself in), was a movie that you’d study in English classes and was probably most people’s introduction to the work of Ken Loach. Kes still remains extremely important today, especially now that the generation of Billy Caspers are becoming today’s Daniel Blake’s.
The release contains an hour’s worth of archive material and excerpts from the 2006 Kes reunion at the Bradford Film Festival as well as an informative and funny 1992 on-stage Guardian lecture with the newspaper’s Film critic Derek Malcolm. In terms of new extra supplemental material, this release has over an hour and a half of brand new video interviews, includes a tour of the shooting locations with lead actor David Bradley. There’s also the awful redubbed audio track made in post-production for international audiences that where baffled by the heavy Yorkshire dialect.
The word masterpiece is thrown around too much these days, but in the case of Kes, it’s a rightful accolade. I love this movie.
Dir: Ken Loach
Scr:Barry Hines, Ken Loach, Tony Garnett
Cast:David Bradley, Freddie Fletcher, Lynne Perrie, Colin Welland, Brian Glover
Prd: Tony Garnett
Music: John Cameron
Editor: Roy Watts
Run time: 112 minutes
Kes is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.