Named by the British Film Institute as one of the ten best British films of the century, Kes
, from Ken Loach (Hidden Agenda
, The Wind That Shakes the Barley
), is cinema’s quintessential portrait of working-class Northern England. Billy (an astonishingly naturalistic David Bradley) is a fifteen-year-old miner’s son whose close bond with a wild kestrel provides him with a spiritual escape from his dead-end life. Kes
established the sociopolitical engagement and artistic brilliance of its filmmaker, and pushed the British “angry young man” film of the sixties into a new realm of authenticity, using real locations and nonprofessional actors. Loach’s poignant coming-of-age drama remains its now legendary director’s most beloved and influential film.
Director Ken Loach, Britain's poet laureate of the working class, brings Barry Hines's novel A Kestrel for a Knave
to poignant life in his second feature. As the tagline puts it, "Billy Casper lies, cheats, steals." A scrawny imp with pool-blue eyes, Billy (David Bradley in a remarkably unaffected performance) lives in Yorkshire with his mother and boorish brother, Jud (Freddie Fletcher). When he isn't attending school or delivering papers, he tends to his kestrel. With help from an illegally obtained book, he proves a natural at falconry, and impresses his entire classroom when he tells them about Kes. As he speaks, his humble speech turns poetic.
Like Tom Courtenay in Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Billy isn't a good kid, but the other lads are no better, and Kes brings out his best. If his stern principal and sadistic coach push him around, an English teacher encourages his passion, but when Billy crosses Jud, he risks losing the only thing that gives his life meaning. Though the flute-intensive score attempts to soften the scenario, the dialogue is astringent, the accents are authentic, and self-sabotaging Billy will break your heart.
Criterion's two-disc set offers the ideal counterpart in Cathy Come Home, which critic Graham Fuller describes in the afterword as "a watershed moment in British television drama." In this contribution to the BBC's Wednesday Play series, Loach introduces a Birmingham couple who end up homeless after a series of setbacks. By incorporating actual interviews, he creates a stirring documentary effect. Other supplements include an insightful South Bank Show profile, in which he discusses his working methods, and a featurette with Loach, Bradley, cinematographer Chris Menges, and producer Tony Garnett, who reveals that Kes owes its very existence to Richardson, who saved the day after funding fell through. --Kathleen C. Fennessy