Kes (film)

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Kes 1969 film poster.jpg
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Loach
Produced byTony Garnett
Screenplay by
Based onA Kestrel for a Knave
by Barry Hines
Music byJohn Cameron
CinematographyChris Menges
Edited byRoy Watts
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 14 November 1969 (1969-11-14) (London)
  • 27 March 1970 (1970-03-27) (United Kingdom)
Running time
112 minutes [1]
CountryUnited Kingdom

Kes /kɛs/ is a 1969 British drama film directed by Ken Loach (credited as Kenneth Loach) and produced by Tony Garnett. The film is based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, written by the Hoyland Nether-born author Barry Hines. The film is ranked seventh in the British Film Institute's Top Ten (British) Films.[3] This is Loach's second feature film for cinema release.


Fifteen-year-old Billy Casper has little hope in life. He is picked on, both at home by his physically and verbally abusive older half-brother, Jud, and at school, by his schoolmates and by abusive teachers. Although he insists that his earlier petty criminal behaviour is behind him, he occasionally steals eggs and milk from milk floats. He has difficulty paying attention in school and is often provoked into tussles with classmates. Billy's father left the family some time ago, and his mother refers to him at one point, while somberly speaking to her friends about her children and their chances in life, as a "hopeless case".

One day, Billy takes a kestrel from a nest on a farm. His interest in learning falconry prompts him to steal a book on the subject from a secondhand book shop, as he is underage and needs – but lies about the reasons he cannot obtain – adult authorisation for 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 about training Kes.

Jud leaves money and instructions for Billy to place a bet on two horses, but, after consulting a bettor who tells him the horses are unlikely to win, Billy spends the money on fish and chips and intends to purchase meat for his bird (instead the butcher gives him scrap meat free of charge). However, the horses do win. Outraged at losing a payout of more than £10, Jud takes revenge by killing Billy's kestrel. Grief-stricken, Billy retrieves the bird's broken body from the waste bin and, after showing it to Jud and his mother, buries the bird on the hillside overlooking the field where he had flown.


  • David Bradley as Billy Casper
  • Freddie Fletcher as Jud
  • Lynne Perrie as Mrs Casper
  • Colin Welland as Mr Farthing
  • Brian Glover as Mr Sugden
  • Bob Bowes as Mr Gryce
  • Bernard Atha as Youth employment officer
  • Joey Kaye as Pub comedian
  • Robert Naylor as MacDowell
  • Zoe Sutherland as Librarian
  • Eric Bolderson as Farmer
  • Joe Miller as Reg, Mother's Friend
  • Bill Dean as Fish and Chip Shop Man
  • Geoffrey Banks as Mathematics teacher
  • Duggie Brown as Milkman
  • Trevor Hesketh as Mr Crossley
  • Harry Markham as Newsagent
  • John Pollard as Footballing Legend Bremner
  • Steve Crossland as schoolboy Crossland


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 produced during a period when the British coal-mining industry was being run down, as gas and oil were increasingly used in place of coal, which led to wage restraints and widespread pit closures. Shortly before the film's release, the Yorkshire coalfield where the film was set, was brought to a standstill for two weeks by an unofficial strike.

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 Hoyland and Hoyland Common.

Set in and around Barnsley, the film was one of the first of several collaborations between Ken Loach and Barry Hines that used authentic Yorkshire dialect. 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 executives 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, as there is a small amount of swearing, including more than one instance of the word twat. It was originally classified by the then British Board of Film Censors as U for Universal (suitable for children), at a time when the only other certificates were A (more suitable for adult audiences) and X (for showing when no person under 16 years was present ... raised to 18 years in July, 1970). 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]


The film was a word-of-mouth hit in Britain, eventually making a profit. However, it was a commercial flop in the US.[2] In his four-star review, 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 at the Loyola University Chicago, which led him to ask, "were they interested in the movie, or the kestrel?"[8]

Director Krzysztof Kieslowski named it as one of his favorite films.[9]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 9.56/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A harrowing coming of age tale told simply and truly, Kes is a spare and richly humane tribute to the small pockets of beauty to be found in an oppressive world."[10]

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 alternative, internationally released soundtrack, with postsync dialogue.[11]


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" (PDF). 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. ^ "Kieślowski's cup of tea (Sight & Sound Top ten poll) - Movie List". MUBI. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Kes (1969)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 21 February 2020.
  11. ^ "Kes". The Criterion Collection.
  12. ^ 17th Karlovy Vary IFF: July 15 – 26, 1970 – Awards. Archived 6 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved June 2008.
  13. ^ a b Awards for Kes (1969). Retrieved June 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fuller, Graham (19 April 2011). "Kes: Winged Hope". The Criterion Collection.
  • Garforth, Richard (18 October 2009). "Kes 40 years on". Archived from the original on 9 November 2009. Interview with David Bradley.
  • 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. OCLC 962416178.
  • Robins, Mike (October 2003). "Kes". Senses of Cinema (28). A detailed synopsis, referenced background and review of Kes.
  • Till, L.; Hines, B (2000). Kes: Play. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 978-1-85459-486-0.

External links[edit]