Review – Kes (1969)


Kes, made in 1969 and directed by Ken Loach, holds a very special place in the hearts of anyone who was around, at the time of it’s release. It is listed, by the British Film Institute, as one of the Top 10 British films of all time. Many people of a certain age, including myself, remember having to study the book, written by Barry Hines, as part of our English lessons in the 70s. I still have my copy, which i should have given back at the end of term. I decided to hold onto it as a keepsake, and it sits proudly on my bookshelf among other classics we had to delve into, including William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies.

It’s the story of a 15 year old lad, growing up in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. He hates school, and faces the daunting prospect of having to start work at the age of 16, a few short months away. He’s picked on, not only by other pupils, but also by the teachers, who pretty much regard him as a bit of a loser. He can’t read or write, and the only prospect of future employment, seems to be down the local coalmine, where his domineering and bulling older brother, Judd, has also worked since leaving school.

The poor lad really doesn’t stand a chance, until he decides to look after, and train, from the nest, a hawk he names Kes. Billy and the kestrel become companions, and he finally has some meaning to his life, something his school and home life have never given him. The scenes of Billy, played by newcomer David Bradley, are simply stunning, and beautiful to watch.

Life is finally coming together for Billy when, in a cruel twist of fate, right at the end of the movie, his whole world comes crashing down around him.

The cast of Kes is mostly made up of what i would call non actors. The majority of the characters are played by real people. The staff and pupils are played by actual staff and pupils of the school. Also many of the residents of the local estate are played by real folks. This gives the film an authenticity it wouldn’t have had if Loach had used real actors. The only two actors used in the film are Lynne Perry, who went on to play Ivy Tilsley in Coronation Street, and Colin Welland, who played the English teacher, who Billy forms a special bond with, when he comes to watch him training Kes. I have to confess to thinking that Brian Glover, who plays the monstrous games master, was also a professional actor, but it turns out he wasn’t.

This is a major credit to the whole cast. What Ken Loach does, is get incredibly natural performances from people who have never acted a day in their lives, and he does a bloody good job of it.

If youv’e seen movies like Poor Cow, starring Carol White and Terence Stamp, and the television play Up The Junction, which caused quite a storm when first screened on the BBC, as part of it’s Wednesday play series, you will get a good idea of what to expect when going into Kes.

I realise i use the word classic quite alot nowadays, but in the case of this wonderful slice of real life, i think it is absolutely and completely justified. Kes has quite rightly earned it’s place amongst British classics such as A Taste Of Honey, Billy Liar, Cathy Come Home and numerous others.

For those of you that have never seen it, i would urge you to track it down right now, and experience a slice of British life that just doesn’t exist anymore…….


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I am passionate about movies and cinema generally. I love talking about them and writing about them.

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