KES

Directed by Ken Loach. UK. 1969.


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Voted seventh on the BFI's list of all-time great British films, Kes is an early coming of age film by Ken Loach, an acclaimed director who has been producing quality films on themes of social awareness for over 30 years. Based on the novel by Barry Hines, A Kestrel For A Knave, Kes dramatizes the grim realities of life for 15-year old Billy Casper (David Bradley) in the bleak mining town of Barnsley in Yorkshire, England. For Billy, life offers little hope for the future other than working in the mines. Disinterested in his studies, the victim of bullies, pushed around by his deadbeat older brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher), Billy finds a spark only when he succeeds in raising and training a kestrel (falcon) that he "finds" on a neighbor's land. Billy's latent intelligence and awareness are brought to the surface for fleeting moments, especially when his English teacher Mr. Farthing (Colin Welland) allows him to speak to the class about Kes, but he is soon overwhelmed by the crush of circumstances at home.

The film has memorable sequences such as a soccer match during school recess where the Games Teacher, Mr. Sugden (Brian Glover), a frustrated professional soccer wannabe, takes over the kids soccer game with hilarious results. Another character you won't soon forget is Mr. Gryce (Bob Bowes), Billy's School Headmaster from hell who tortures the errant kids with moral lectures in his office before caning them. Billy would not win any charming child contests. He lies, he steals, he fights, he's a slacker, but he is very human and we feel for him. We want him to break out and achieve but we know the odds are stacked against him. Kes is gritty, sad, funny, and very moving, a film that avoids maudlin sentimentality to tell a simple story with an authenticity you will not easily forget. 
 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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