The film focuses on 15-year-old Billy Casper, who has little hope in life and is bullied both at home, by his physically and verbally abusive half-brother, Judd, as well as at school. He is mischievous himself; he steals milk from milk floats, gets other students into trouble and generally fights and misbehaves. Billy comes over as an emotionally neglected boy with little self-respect. Billy's mother refers to him in the film as a "hopeless case". His father is dead.
The film shows scenes of Billy's school. The headmaster canes a group of boys who were caught smoking. One scene of comic relief in an otherwise bleak film is of a gym teacher (played by Brian Glover) taking part in a football game, fantasising about himself as Bobby Charlton and commentating on the match in his head.
Outside cadging money and day-dreaming at school, Billy has no positive interests. His greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner (at that time, British miners were amongst the lowest paid workers in the developed world), but he has no apparent escape route from what would ultimately be his fate. That is until he finds an outlet from his pitiful existence through training a kestrel that he takes from a nest on a farm. His interest in learning falconry prompts Billy to steal a book on the subject from a secondhand book shop as he cannot get a borrower's card for the public library.
As the relationship between Billy and "Kes", the kestrel, during the training improves so does Billy's outlook and horizons. For the first time in the film Billy receives praise, from his English teacher after delivering an impromptu talk on his relationship with the bird.
However, when Judd sends Billy off to place a bet on a horse, Billy spends the money on chips, as he assumes the horse is unlikely to win. However, the horse wins (meaning Judd would have won over £10 if Billy had put the bet on), and Judd is furious at Billy, and takes revenge by killing his kestrel because he could not find Billy. Judd confronts his mother and Billy finds his kestrel, who is now dead. Billy shows his kestrel to Judd and his mother, leaving Judd angry at him, but Billy leaves to stop the confrontation. He buries his kestrel in the same garden he found the bird.
Kes was Ken Loach's second feature film, and marks his move away from the self-conscious experimentalism of his earlier work.
As before, Loach developed a close partnership with the author of the source work, in this case Barry Hines, on whose novel A Kestrel for a Knave the film is based. Loach worked with both Hines and producer Tony Garnett to adapt it as a film script.
The dominant theme of Kes is the way in which the education system stifles the talents of many young working-class children, offering them little choice but to follow the narrow path laid out for them by an industrial capitalist society which sees them as fit only for unskilled manual or office work. This theme runs through much of Loach's work.
The influence of Italian neo-realism film-making can be traced in Kes, as in Poor Cow (1967). Loach explained, "the camera's job was to record in a sympathetic way and to be unobtrusive, not to be slick." Loach and his cameraman Chris Menges didn't, as is common in fiction films, mark spots for the actors to hit, but instead tried to accommodate the actors' movements. Loach, though, has admitted that throughout his films, including Kes, "I lay traps, as it were," for example by moving furniture. The apparent simplicity and directness of Loach's filming thus contains an element of manipulation which is hidden from both the audience and the actors.
|Directed by||Ken Loach|
|Produced by||Tony Garnett|
|Screenplay by||Barry Hines
|Based on||A Kestrel for a Knave by
|Editing by||Roy Watts|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||110 minutes|