on 17 October 2007
I had to read the book for my school english exams,'A Kestrel For A Knave' by Barry Hines. Thoroughly enjoyed it, and could not wait to see the film.
It is fantastic, as it sums up my school days only too well, I think most people can relate to this film, with fond memories of all that went on in the classroom, and on the football pitch (that bloomin games teacher) played by the late Brian Glover.(brilliant character)
Has to be director Kenneth Loaches best ever film, fantastic!
I can only remember seeing 'David Bradley' in one other film, 'Zulu Dawn'. Shame he could not have made some more, as he played the part of Billy Casper so well.......
on 16 May 2012
Even within director Ken Loach's oeuvre, I suspect that 'Kes' is a one-off, a stand-alone piece. It is a remarkable film. It also has the same sensibility as a BBC 'Play for Today', or 'Wednesday Play' - only crisply shot on film, in colour, and with generally higher production values.
I can think of no other film which captures so perfectly (and uncompromisingly) the essence of a provincial English childhood in the 1960s. It also shows, with unblinking clarity, how youth can be brutalized by the pincer movement of, on the one hand, a harsh and dysfunctional home life, and, on the other, a sadistic school environment.
Billy (the excellent David Bradley) is poor and neglected. One imagines that if he did not steal, then he would very likely starve. He is bullied both at school and at home. One glimmer of light enters his life when he steals a baby kestrel from its nest, and decides to rear it, and learn how to train it, himself. Without giving away the ending, 'Kes' is a sad film, but not, I think, one that is devoid of hope. It is quite possible that having the bird has awakened in Billy a love of nature and the English countryside - things which may come to provide him with both a source of consolation, and a source of employment, in the future. The film does not spell this out, but by its end the seeds of a possible future redemption for Billy are in place. That's what I choose to think, anyway.
The film is beautifully shot and well played by all concerned. But director Ken Loach does not pull his punches, and nor does he flinch from showing us the harshness of Billy's situation.
Beyond the standard options and the theatrical trailer, the DVD has no extras.
on 14 May 2009
Barry Hines' brilliant novel of unconditional love, poverty and betrayal, makes a superb film; director Ken Loach demonstrates his trademark earthy, no punches pulled style, and the cast and scenery make you feel like this is reality rather than fiction. Of course, the standout performance here belongs to the inimitable Brian Glover; as Yorkshire as batter pudding he grunts and growls his way through the memorable football match scene and quite simply steals the show. Heartwarming and touching, but ultimately tragic; Kes is arguably the best British film ever made - it's certainly the best film ever set in Barnsley!
Hard-hitting realism in the form of 'Kes' - a film about a young boy who's bullied at school - and his home-life draws an all-too similar comparison. His mother (played by Lynne Perrie - formerly of Coronation Street) has a hard time keeping order in the home. With no husband, and two children with an age gap of about ten years and from different men - she does her best.
Billy, the youngest son finds a distraction from his problems in the form of a Kestrel. He learns about rearing and training it from a stolen book and has tremendous success. The school scenes in particular are all too real and will bring back both happy and unpleasant memories in equal numbers. It shows both the best and worst side of school days from this particular era.
A touching scene is when a certain teacher (and his kind were pretty rare and worth their weight in gold) is beautifully played by Colin Welland who discovers the child's secret pastime and takes him under his care.
on 19 November 2010
Saw this many, many years ago and knew then it would become a classic. Being from a mining town in the North of England I know it is so realistic of those times.
I bought it, and also one for my son living in California, so he can appreciate how the North was when his parents were growing up, and how hard folks worked.
The football match is a classic!
Kes is in many ways a grim picture, but it has qualities you don't often find in films made now, and its documentary value confirms its status as a classic. Billy Casper is brilliantly played by 14-year-old David Bradley; there is no attempt to ingratiate the character with the audience, as would be far more likely today. He is as rough at the edges as he would be in reality, and has a rather underfed, deprived look. He isn't above acting unkindly towards a younger boy, holding him while he is threatened, and this younger boy ends up being caned as a result, quite unjustly. Billy shows an awareness of this afterwards, but even so ... The stealing is a lesser ill, but nevertheless contributes to the sense of his being quite feral. It is completely outweighed by the sympathy you have to feel for him: bullied by his brother, barked at by teachers who generally don't care, and neglected by his single mother. And with very little hope of a future of any fulfilment. The kestrel he starts to train takes him out of all this, and sparks his imagination; more than this, his awareness of the beauty of nature free from all sentimentalisation.
He loves the bird for what it is, in its wild state, and expects nothing from it. The scene where he tells his English teacher this (Colin Welland) is one of the best, as you realise how this boy's potential has been completely ignored by his education. Another outstanding scene is where you see him flying it, the bird swooping down vertically to grab the meat from his gloved hand. The teacher, who is watching without any permission from the headmaster - as would be mandatory today - says it is the most exciting thing he has ever seen. There is also a scene, equally marvellous, where Billy talks about his hobby to the class, and is completely lost in his description, which everyone is caught up in - a brief parting of the heavy clouds that seemed to hang over all teaching. My only reservation is with the music, which I find a bit dated, and even reductive of the poetic landscapes; and a certain thinness in some of the scenes where you feel more needs to be going on, perhaps in the images, for it really to take off. There is an outstanding sequence on the football pitch, however. This one is multi-stranded, with a bullying games master who thinks he's Bobby Charlton, and a totally mismatched group of boys playing - comedy and cruelty have rarely been juxtaposed with as much skill. Anyone who was forced to play football at school and hated it, as I did, is sure to feel a shudder of recognition at the antics here.
Kenneth (as he was known back in 1969) Loach's film, which he co-wrote with Barry Hines based on Hines' novel A Kestrel For A Knave, is an authentic tale of the British working class North (Barnsley, to be precise) which, as well as its central theme of a young boy's (remarkable newcomer David Bradley's Billy Casper) passion for nature, also provides much perceptive social commentary on the times during which it is based, as well as a plethora of hilarious comedic moments. Interestingly enough, although Loach's film was reasonably successful on its original UK release it was a flop in the US where the public 'switched off' due to its heavy Yorkshire brogue (which, of course, merely adds to the authenticity and appeal of Loach's masterpiece).
Kes has rightly been acclaimed as one of the most influential of Loach's films, following (to some extent) on the heels of the decade's earlier 'angry young men' films (by the likes of Anderson, Reisz, Schlesinger, etc), but with a greater degree of restrained, naturalistic realism - a trait that Loach was to adopt permanently. There's nothing remotely 'flash' about Kes, but rather a simple, compelling tale with 'real' (or perhaps Loach would say, 'true') acting performances - Loach's first 'big screen' mix of comedy and tragedy - brought to life by cinematographer Chris Menges' restrained camerawork and John Cameron's light, idiosyncratic folksy score. There is, however, much passion here, as shown by Billy's devotion to his trained Kestrel and in Loach's depiction of the vagaries and shortcomings of the education system prevailing at the time.
Also pervading Loach's film is the theme of 'northern machismo' (machismo not being a monopoly of the north, of course) - exemplified by Billy's elder brother, Jud (an excellent Freddie Fletcher), a wise-cracking, jack-the-lad, whose future has been 'consigned' to the pit, pub and betting shop, and also in the disciplinarian approach adopted by Bob Bowes' officious headmaster, Mr Bryce ('I just can't understand this generation'). Against this 'traditional' backdrop is pitted Bradley's Casper, an introverted, disaffected, confused, day-dreamer (whose 'catch phrase' would be 'I don't know, sir') with an all-consuming interest in nature and who is 'supported' by the young Colin Welland's sympathetic, progressive teacher, Mr Farthing (quipping, 'My dad's heavyweight champion of the world' in the memorable schoolboy fight scene), who shows an interest in Billy's 'hobby'. Loach's eye for evocative (and empathetic) cinematic detail is also amply demonstrated here as Billy follows (reading aloud) Desperate Dan in The Dandy and an innocent young boy befalls an undeserved fate in the headmaster's office after being coerced by his fellow pupils.
However, any review of Kes would, of course, be incomplete without reference to (arguably) the film's standout sequence, featuring Brian Glover's sarcastic, bullying, cheating and deluded games teacher, Mr Sugden. I have just watched this again for the umpteenth time and it remains side-splittingly funny (one of the funniest sequences in cinema, I would argue). Whether it be Sugden's misspelling 'stimulating' or his 'Denis Law's in the wash this week' or his treatment of his pupils (including Casper in those shorts) or just simply his pomposity, Glover's depiction here is simply unforgettable.
Comedy or tragedy, Loach scores full marks for both with Kes and the film's denouement has also lost none of its power. The film's influence is wide and can be seen in other great British films, such as Gillies MacKinnon's Small Faces, Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher and Clio Bernard's recent Selfish Giant.
on 2 July 2012
It's hard to say anything that hasn't been said before in the reviews about this film / story in terms of general viewing. So instead I will write a few sentences or more about its value as a teaching & learning tool in the secondary school. I generally use this film, with accompanying extracts from the Kes: Play and A Kestrel for a Knave (Penguin Modern Classics), with Y9 students (usually towards the end of the year) who are disengaged from learning - particularly English literature.
Without fail, the initial showing of the film (the opening credits with their whistling tune and dated camera quality) leads to huffs and puffs from the students. And standing there as the teacher I can't help thinking, "maybe its finally run its course, maybe time has finally taken its toll?"
However, equally without fail, the students quickly engage with the compelling performance of David Bradley and, despite the passing of over 40 years, somehow connect with Billy Casper's plight and his experiences.
The power of the story is such that on each viewing (and reading), there are always new lines of discussion and new layers of meaning to be found. Just recently we did a whole series of lessons simply on body language, comparing Billy's body language in different situations. Thinking ahead, I intend next time to include a session looking at the connection between Billy's predicament then as an adolescent with youth employment now.
I guess most people looking into buying the DVD will have probably watched it in school already and be considering buying it to watch it all over again - my advice is go for it. And if you are a fellow teacher, I would recommend you consider fitting it back into your curriculum - particularly for those students who are often hard to reach (a bit like Billy!).
It's really rather difficult to try and say anything that hasn't already been said about this timeless Ken Loach classic. 'Kes' was a landmark low budget affair from 1969, filmed in the unlikely location of Barnsley, but by casting mostly normal people instead of trained actors, it had a real natural, sincere quality, and is still on the school syllabus today.
'Kes' is the tale of young Yorkshire boy Billy Casper (played by child-star David Bradley who really is superb), who, after school, is destined to work down the local pit with his uncaring, violent brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher). His mother (played to perfection by the late Lynne Perrie) is a single woman who goes out to the pubs on a night and leaves her kids. Without any love shown to him, Billy Casper has an unhappy home life, and his schooldays are just as grim. Everything changes when he finds and trains Kes, a young Kestrel who becomes Billy's only real friend. The bird grips his imagination, and is Billy's only escape from his deary life in the brutal North.
Based on the book, 'A Kestrel For A Knave' by Barry Hines, 'Kes' is one of my all time favourite British films. It's touching, very accurate and so true to life in every way. Although the ending is a sad one, there are plenty of light hearted moments, including a brilliant scene in the library when Billy goes to find a book about Kestrels, and the infamous football farce with Brian Glover as the evil PE teacher. This was the film that really made Ken Loach's name when he hit the cinemas in 1970, and the one that everyone knows and remembers. A real masterpiece of British cinema, with some gritty acting from a cast who were almost all virtually unknown (aside from Glover and 'Z Cars' actor Colin Welland) when Ken cast them in 'Kes'.
Rather disappointedly, the DVD contains no special features, apart from the trailer (though not all editions even have that).
Readers might care to know that both Lynne Perrie and Freddie Fletcher worked together again shortly after in the popular Yorkshire TV comedy series Queenie's Castle - The Complete Series [DVD] , which was in many ways, 'Kes' in a sitcom format, starring Diana Dors.
on 13 November 2013
Saw it as a kid myself, and clearly emphasised with the film. Its gritty and heartwarming.
Some of the acting is dated now but taken as a social commentary of the time it is faultless.
The late Brian Glover is hilarious as the school PE teacher, and the name of the actor escapes me, playing Casper, the young boy, who is good. Colin welland is good as the sympathetic teacher, and the overall film is a credit to Ken Loach, and should be be a set text for all junior school kids.