The team of director Ken Loach and producer Tony Garnett, whose highly-regarded television collaborations included such seminal plays as Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home and The Big Flame, made this vivid blend of drama and documentary. It is “funny, moving, at moments quite beautiful,” said Barry Norman in the Daily Mail: and he concluded that “being starless, sexless and unviolent all it has in its favour is that it’s very, very good indeed.”
Loach and Garnett collaborated with Barry Hines to adapt his novel for the screen and cast non-professional David Bradley as Billy Casper, a youngster who lives with his flighty mother (Lynne Perrie) and loutish stepbrother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) on a Yorkshire council estate. He has an early morning paper round, attempts to stay clear of a gang with whom he has been in trouble, and is unresponsive at school.
When he goes bird-nesting he discovers a kestrel’s nest, takes one of the fledglings and, calling it “Kes”, keeps it in the garden shed, using a stolen book on falconry to start to work with the bird. Eventually his patience and perseverance pay off and he manages to train the bird to fly free, return to his hand for food, and to take meat in flight from a lure. His schoolwork suffers even further but English teacher Mr Farthing (Colin Welland) takes interest in him and the kestrel. But when Jud gives him money to put on a horse, Billy spends it on food for the bird. Jud is enraged because the horse won and takes his revenge on the only thing his brother really cares for.
Kes was filmed for eight weeks on location in and around Barnsley during the summer of 1968. In spite of glowing press write-ups and two successful screenings at the London Film Festival in 1969, it was shelved until 1970 when, after opening in Doncaster, it was finally released in London. Loach’s left-wing ideology was relegated to second place in favour of keen, documentary-style observation, humour and unforced acting, notably from 14-year-old Bradley.
UK / UA – Woodfall / 109 minutes / 1969
Writers: Barry Hines, Ken Loach, Tony Garnett, from the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines / Music: John Cameron / Cinematography: Chris Menges / Producer: Tony Garnett / Director: Ken Loach
Cast: David Bradley, Lynne Perrie, Freddie Fletcher, Colin Welland, Brian Glover, Bob Bowes