Growing up in an oppressive Yorkshire mining town with no prospects, 15-year-old Barnsley schoolboy Billy Casper (Bradley) is facing an unwanted future working down the pit. With little hope at school or home, Billy is both bullied and ignored, but finds an escape when he happens across a wild kestrel which he decides to train…
Often hailed as the peak of British kitchen sink drama, Kes remains a timeless landmark of social realism and humanist cinema. Based on Barry Hines’ novel A Kestrel For A Knave, it was only the second feature by acclaimed socialist filmmaker Ken Loach, despite boasting many of the trademarks we now associate with his work. The naturalistic, semi-improvised feel; the accurate portrayal of the working class struggle; the bleak and gritty realism punctuated with moments of beauty… his recurring motifs are all present and correct.
Admittedly, it’s a difficult movie which won’t appeal in the slightest to modern popcorn audiences. But while the idea of a mischievous teen training a kestrel might provoke dismissive titters from the blockbuster crowd (helped in no part by Bo Selecta…), there’s something universal about a lonely boy finding a way to escape the oppressive society which keeps him caged. Everyone (rightly) remembers Brian Glover as the sadistic PE teacher who acts as referee, commentator and Bobby Charlton wannabe – perfectly encapsulating the petty, self-serving nature of those oldschool teachers – while the supporting cast is made up of untrained Barnsley locals with broad dialects.
Soap fans will recognise Lynne Perrie (who went on to become ‘famous’ as Ivy Tilsley in Coronation Street) playing Billy’s mum, Freddie Fletcher is adequately hateful as his bullying brother and Colin Welland is about the only likeable supporting character as a compassionate teacher. Ultimately though, the movie belongs to young David Bradley, who essays a compelling central turn as the gangly loner despite no acting experience.
Often hailed as the peak of British kitchen sink drama, Kes remains a timeless landmark of social realism and humanist cinema.