Kes (film)


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.


Fifteen-year-old Billy Casper has little hope in life. He is bullied, both at home by his physically and verbally abusive older half-brother, Jud, and at school. Although he insists that his earlier petty criminal behavior 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 has left the family some time ago, and his mother refers to him in the film 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 authorization 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 on his relationship with the bird.

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 on meat for his bird. 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'd flown.



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 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 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 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]


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]

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

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

Home media

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.[10]


See also


  1. "KES (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 27 May 1969. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  2. 1 2 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. 1 2 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 2016-08-09.
  10. "Kes". The Criterion Collection.
  11. 17th Karlovy Vary IFF: July 15 – 26, 1970 – Awards. Retrieved June 2008.
  12. 1 2 Awards for Kes (1969). Retrieved June 2008.


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