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Kes More at IMDbPro »

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Brilliantly moving drama from Ken Loach

Author: ShadeGrenade from Ambrosia
15 July 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Based on Barry Hines' book 'A Kestrel For A Knave', 'Kes' tells the touching story of 'Billy Casper' ( David Bradley ), a 15 year old growing up in the North of England. His is not a happy life - he is pushed around by older brother Jud ( Freddie Fletcher ) and his mother ( Lynne Perrie ) is an alcoholic. School is no better; the other boys are hostile, and the sports master ( the marvellous Brian Glover ) has taken an instant dislike to him. Billy is due to leave in a few weeks, but does not know what he wants to do - certainly not go down the mines like Jud. Things look grim for the lad until the day he finds a kestrel, which he calls 'kes' for short. Hiding it in his shed, he domesticates it with the help of a book on falconry he stole from a shop. Suddenly Billy has a new purpose in life. When his teacher ( Colin Welland ) invites him to address the class on the subject of birds, he impresses them so much he gets a round of applause. But tragedy strikes - Billy unwisely uses his brother's betting money to buy food for Kes. The horse romps home, depriving Jud of £10 winnings. He is furious, and extracts a terrible revenge...

A few years earlier, 'Kes' might have been labelled 'kitchen sink drama'. It does not do the film justice. Produced by Tony Garnett and directed by Ken Loach, it is so realistic that you do not feel as though you are watching actors. It looks like a chunk of somebody's life on the screen, even down to the clinking of tea cups after breakfast. The cast are excellent, particularly Bradley, who gives one of the greatest performances ever put on film. I defy you not to weep at the climax. Also impressive are Freddie Fletcher ( later to appear in the Diana Dors sitcom 'Queenie's Castle' ) and Lynne Perrie ( for many years 'Ivy Tilsley' in 'Coronation Strret' ).

There is humour too, thankfully; Brian Glover's soccer match is hilarious, made more so by the addition of the score running along the bottom of the screen every so often. Billy reading a 'Desperate Dan' strip out loud ( he is supposed to be delivering the comic on his paper round ) is equally amusing. The headmaster - 'Mr.Gryce' - is referred to by pupils as 'Gryce Pudding' ( that's nothing. At my school, we had a teacher called 'Mr.Hitchman', and our nickname for him was 'Hitchy Bottom!' ).

I won't say any more about this classic except this - see it.

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Unrelenting Misery

Author: suldog from United States
14 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a tremendously well-made film, but there is no let up to the misery. If you want to go to bed happy, go elsewhere for your late night TV viewing.

(MY WIFE and I started watching this about two or three minutes into the movie, past the credits, on a local TV station. We stayed up until fifteen minutes past midnight, engrossed in the story, but having no idea what the title was. I just found out by coming here!) The cast is superb. Huge applause for the lead (Billy, played by David Bradley) who was pitch perfect as the boy who trains the hawk. All other cast members are believable as his antagonists, and the English teacher - just about the only nice person in the boy's life - comes across as caring, but not in a sugar-coated or unreal way considering the setting.

As others have said, the dialogue is a problem for folks unfamiliar with the accents. We had true difficulty understanding much of what was said, but the emotions were clear and the situations the same.

I would not call this an uplifting film, by any means. It is unrelenting in its portrayal of a miserable life, despite the scenes wherein the boy finds happiness with the bird. I suspect it will haunt us for a while. We hoped that the ending might bring some relief, but...

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Fun for all the family

Author: cgyford from Ankara, Turkey
6 September 2009

Celebrated socialist filmmaker worked with Barry Hines in adapting the latter's GCSE English set text "A Kestrel for a Knave" into his second cinematic feature following "Poor Cow" which won numerous awards and has been ranked seventh in the British Film Institute's Top Ten (British) Films list.

David Bradley won a BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles and he along with Freddie Fletcher, Lynne Perrie and the legendary Brian Glover are all brilliant in their first screen appearances with slightly more experienced support coming from the BAFTA wining Colin Welland as the sympathetic teacher.

The burgeoning young director emerges from the BBC's "The Wednesday Play" stable with a powerful social realistic vision and an ability to work with a very limited budget but his true strength shines through in getting the finest out of his inexperienced cast who milk the script for every moment of joy and pain.

I ain't going down pit.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of the best British films ever made

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
15 February 2011

Grim, poignant and funny, Kes is something truly remarkable. Ken Loach's direction is just wonderful, and the whole film looks beautiful with the photography and scenery very handsome. Kes also has a moving and engaging story with realistic situations that has such authenticity to it as well, while the script is beautifully written. The pace very rarely lags either, so there is seldom a dull moment.

Kes is also advantaged by some fantastic acting. Freddie Fletcher epitomises the bully big brother so well, and Brian Glover is also remarkable. However, the most outstanding performance comes from David Bradley in the lead, he is very believable and very moving as well as he finds solace in the baby kestrel from the pain of his dysfunctional family life and the torment of school, so much so you do feel for him.

Overall, a brilliant film and makes me proud to be British. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The Barnsley Blues

Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
6 October 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"If black boxes survive air crashes, why don't they make the whole plane out of that stuff?" - George Carlin

Ken Loach's "Kes", now regarded as one of the last classics of the British New Wave, tells the tale of Billy Caspter, a 13 year old kid living in the working class town of Barnsley.

Billy, bullied by his mother, older brother, teachers and schoolmates, mopes about Loach's film with a look of perpetual gloom. Haggard and forlorn, Billy sees no hope in his present or future life. Society itself seems to have dismissed him as a "hopeless case", destined to work at local coal mines.

Despite the world kicking him down, and despite living in a town which gives him no avenues to creatively channel his energies, Billy manages to develop a passion for birds. As such, he captures and tames a wild kestrel and teaches it to obey his commands. One of the film's best moments involves Billy, a tiny, fragile looking kid, being forced to stand up in front of his school classroom and relate something interesting about his life. Nervously he tells his teacher and schoolmates about his bird. They look at him with wonder and amazement. How can this little kid be smart, patient and dedicated enough to tame a wild animal?

And that, admittedly quite naively, is the theme of the film: society doesn't give the poor and the down-trodden the chance to surprise the world and make something of themselves, Loach's kestrel, and its eventual death, symbolising a kind of social predestination in which the individual's wings are clipped before he's given the chance to fly. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: the impoverished and the marginalized are treated in such a way as to become as they are viewed.

Loach was known for these types of social realist films, tackling issues like abortion in "Up The Junction" (1965) and homelessness in "Cathy Come Home" (1966). Like most British film-makers of the time (Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, John Schlesinger etc), the intention here is to angrily point fingers, give a voice to the working-class and demonize social ills until things change. Whilst Loach's contemporaries would lose this idealism, he's held his ground for over half a century.

8.5/10 - A simple tale which seems to resonate across all cultures, every country in the world having an internationally well-loved film like this in their local canon. Consider, for example, France's "The 400 Blows", India's "Pather Panchali" and Iran's "Where is the friend's home?"

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

This is how it was..

Author: sshepherd10 from United States
8 August 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is from the book "Kes - A Kestrel for A Knave" by Barry Hines.

Do you remember any of the books you had to read at school as "compulsory reading"? To me this film should be compulsory viewing for all English schoolkids. This is how it was. I love the football scenes. As you may know Brian Glover was a professional wrestler, but his portrayal of the gym teacher is stunning. My gym teacher was Bev Risman, who was fullback/goalkicker for Leeds RLFC, and they could have taken Glover's role from him..

Although a dark, grim film, this brings back many childhood memories for me.. including being caned for smoking.. a Players No. 6 I had stolen from my dad..

They just don't make films like this anymore.. Billy Elliot and Brassed Off get close.. but Kes is my favourite film of all time..

Stewart (The Yorkshireman, and proud of it) Shepherd

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

It's grim up north.

Author: finney43 from United Kingdom
21 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This a wonderful little British film from the late sixties about a working class lad who steals and then trains a young kestrel.The film is set in the then Yorkshire

mining town of Barnsley.David Bradley plays Casper a skinny runt of lad

who is constantly bullied by his older brother and told by his teachers that all he can expect when he is older is a job down the mine. Things change however when he comes across a kestrel nest on a farm. He decides to steal one of the chicks which he then rears himself. This film really shows what working class life in Britain used to be like. The house he lives in is virtually bare of anything apart from a sofa and table, he has to share a bed with his brother Jud who comes in drunk late at night and who is constantly putting him down.It also shows the education system of the time to have a load of bullies for teachers who it seems revel in criticising and having the opinion that once a troublemaker always a troublemaker. There are however some wonderful moments like the football match where the p.e. teacher thinks he gods gift to football and that he knows everything about the game. Also the scenes where Casper is with his Kestrel are very moving a time for him to remove himself from the grim reality of the world he lives in. However be warned the film does end on a very sad note. This film should be viewed though to show how hard times used to be and to show how times have changed.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: Jackson Booth-Millard from United Kingdom
1 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The film was often spoofed in Bo' Selecta!, with the character Craig David having peregrine falcon of the same name, and I watched some of the film in my Film Studies class when we studying independent film. This is considered one of the best film from BAFTA nominated director Ken Loach (Sweet Sixteen, Looking for Eric), I can see why. Based on the "grim Up North" novel by Barry Hines, it tells the story of troublesome but reforming teenager Billy Casper (BAFTA winning David Bradley, obviously, he was willing to get his clothes off). He is a troublemaker, but when he finds and befriends a baby kestrel, Kes, he finds solace and starts to train it to get away from his dysfunctional family and torment of school. There may not be much appearance of the bird, but this is still a good focus on a child almost anti-hero and his troubled life. The other great but horrible character is Billy's bullying older brother, Jud (Freddie Fletcher) who in the end is the one that ends the friendship and Billy, really cruelly and for hardly any real reason. Also starring Lynne Perrie as Mrs. Casper, BAFTA winning Colin Welland as Mr. Farthing, English Teacher, Brian Glover as Mr. Sugden, Games Teacher and Bob Bowes as Mr. Gryce, Headmaster. It was nominated the BAFTAs for Best Film, Best Screenplay and the UN Award. It was number 44 on The 100 Greatest Tearjerkers, it was number 26 on The 50 Greatest British Films, and it was number 28 on The 100 Greatest Films. Very good!

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of the all-time greats

Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
23 June 2003

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.

NOTE: Though recently re-released on British DVD, the audio and video quality are poor and the Yorkshire accents are so thick they might as well be talking in Senegalese (I recommend turning on closed-captioning).

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A mostly unheralded minor classic in search of DVD release.

Author: atlantickit from NY, NY
9 January 2003

A mostly unheralded minor classic in search of DVD release, Kes is a film that transcends its very specific vernacular. Optional English subtitles in DVD format might be required for first time viewers. What might be dismissed as a mere coming of age tale, like all great art, really speaks to so much more about compassion, connection and class. Although much less known than Billy Elliott or Pelle the Conqueror, Kes, which is argueably Loach's best, definitely is not third to those great films.

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