Kes (film)

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Kes 1969 film poster.jpg
UK theatrical release poster
Directed by Ken Loach
Produced by Tony Garnett
Screenplay by Barry Hines
Ken Loach
Tony Garnett
Based on A Kestrel for a Knave 
by Barry Hines
Starring David Bradley
Freddie Fletcher
Lynne Perrie
Colin Welland
Brian Glover
Music by John Cameron
Cinematography Chris Menges
Edited by Roy Watts
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 14 November 1969 (1969-11-14) (London)
  • 27 March 1970 (1970-03-27) (United Kingdom)
Running time 112 minutes [1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £157,000[2]

Kes /kɛs/ is a 1969 drama film directed by Ken Loach and produced by Tony Garnett. The film is based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, written by the Barnsley-born author Barry Hines. The film is ranked seventh in the British Film Institute's Top Ten (British) Films[3] and among the top ten in its list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.


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, Jud, and at school. He is mischievous, stealing eggs and milk from milk floats, has difficulty paying attention in school, and is often provoked into tussles with classmates. 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 left the family some time ago.

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 PE teacher taking part in a football game, fantasising about himself as Bobby Charlton and commentating on the match.

Outside cadging money and daydreaming at school, Billy has no positive interests. His greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner, but he has no apparent escape route until he finds an outlet 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 is underage and cannot be given a borrower's card from the public library.

As the relationship between Billy and "Kes", the kestrel, improves during the training, 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.

Jud leaves money and instructions for Billy to place a bet on two horses, but Billy spends the money on fish and chips and on meat for his bird, after having been told that the horses are unlikely to win. However, the horses do win (meaning Jud would have won over £10 if Billy had put the bet on). Furious at Billy and unable to find him, Jud takes revenge by killing his kestrel, whose body Billy retrieves from the bin. After showing the kestrel to Jud and his mother, Billy buries his kestrel in the garden.


David Bradley, Freddie Fletcher and Lynne Perrie in 'Kes'.


Both the film and the book provide a portrait of life in the mining areas of Yorkshire of the time, reportedly the miners in the area were then the lowest paid workers in a developed country.[4] The film was shot on location, including in St. Helens School, Athersley South, later renamed Edward Sheerien School (demolished in 2011); and in and around the streets of Lundwood.

Set in Barnsley, the film contains broad local dialects. The cast have authentic Yorkshire accents and used or knew the dialects. The extras were all hired from in and around Barnsley. The DVD version of the film has certain scenes dubbed over with fewer dialect terms than in the original. In a 2013 interview, director Ken Loach said that, upon its release, United Artists organised a screening of the film for some American executive and they said that they could understand Hungarian better than the dialect in the film.[5]

The production company was set up with the name "Kestrel Films". Ken Loach and Tony Garnett used this for some of their later collaborations such as Family Life and The Save the Children Fund Film.


The certificate given to the film has occasionally been reviewed by the British Board of Film Classification. It was originally classified as Universal, at a time when the only other certificates were Adult and X. Three years later, Stephen Murphy, the BBFC Secretary, wrote in a letter that it would have been given the new Advisory certificate under the system then in place.[6] Murphy also argued that the word "bugger" is a term of affection and not considered offensive in the area that the film was set. In 1987, the VHS release was given a PG certificate on the grounds of "the frequent use of mild language", and the film has remained PG since that time.[7]

In the original undubbed version of the film, there is one case of the word "fucking" towards the end of the film although, as this takes place during an argument, it is not clear. In the dubbed version, which is more widely available, this is replaced by the word "bloody".

The novel contains more and stronger profanity than does the film.[citation needed]


The film was a word of mouth hit in Britain, eventually making a profit. However it was a complete commercial flop in the US.[2] Roger Ebert said that the film failed to open in Chicago, and attributed the problems to the Yorkshire accents.[8] Ebert saw the film at a 1972 showing organised by the Biological Honor Society in Loyola, which led him to ask, "were they interested in the movie, or the kestrel?"[8]

The film has universal acclaim and currently holds a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Home media[edit]

A digitally restored version of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in April 2011. The extras feature a new documentary featuring Loach, Menges, producer Tony Garnett, and actor David Bradley, a 1993 episode of The South Bank Show with Ken Loach, Cathy Come Home (1966), an early television feature by Loach, with an afterword by film writer Graham Fuller, and an alternate, internationally released soundtrack, with postsync dialogue.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "KES (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 27 May 1969. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p378
  3. ^ BFI's Top Ten (British) Films
  4. ^ "British Films at Doc Films, 2011–2012", The Nicholson Center for British Studies, University of Chicago
  5. ^ Interview - Ken Loach (KES, 1970), La Semaine de la critique.
  6. ^ "Correspondence from Stephen Murphy on the certification of Kes". Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  7. ^ "BBFC Case Studies - Kes". BBFC. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Kes film review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 16 January 1973
  9. ^ "Kes". The Criterion Collection. 
  10. ^ 17th Karlovy Vary IFF: July 15 – 26, 1970 – Awards. Retrieved June 2008.
  11. ^ a b Awards for Kes (1969). Retrieved June 2008.


  • Golding, Simon W. (2006). Life After Kes: The Making of the British Film Classic, the People, the Story and Its Legacy. Shropshire, UK: GET Publishing. ISBN 0-9548793-3-3. 
  • Till, L. & Hines, B. (2000). Kes: Play, London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 978-1-85459-486-0
  • Golding, Simon W. (2013 KINDLE Edition). Life After Kes: The Making of the British Film Classic, the People, the Story and Its Legacy. Shropshire, UK: GET Publishing. ISBN 0-9548793-3-3.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]