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Kes (film) facts for kids

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Kes 1969 film poster.jpg
UK theatrical release poster
Directed by Ken Loach
Produced by Tony Garnett
Screenplay by
  • Barry Hines
  • Ken Loach
  • Tony Garnett
  • David Bradley
  • Freddie Fletcher
  • Lynne Perrie
  • Colin Welland
  • Brian Glover
Music by John Cameron
Cinematography Chris Menges
Editing by Roy Watts
Studio Woodfall Film Productions
  • Kestrel Films
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 14 November 1969 (1969-11-14) (London)
27 March 1970 (1970-03-27) (United Kingdom)
Running time 112 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £157,000

Kes is a 1969 British drama film directed by Ken Loach (credited as Kenneth Loach) and produced by Tony Garnett, based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, written by the Hoyland Nether-born author Barry Hines. Kes tells the story of Billy, who comes from a working-class and dysfunctional family and is a no-hoper at school, who seems destined for a dreary future working in the local coal mine like his bullying elder brother. Billy, however, discovers his own private means of temporary escape and fulfilment when he steals a fledgling kestrel—a small bird of prey—from its nest in the surrounding countryside and proceeds to train it in the art of falconry, which he teaches himself from a similarly stolen book. We follow Billy's escapades through the final weeks of his schooling, some comic, some bleak and some involving discourse with a sole empathetic, interested teacher, until an error of judgement on Billy's part leads to a final, tragic ending.

The film has been much praised, especially for the performance of the teenage David Bradley, who had never acted before, in the lead role, and for Loach's compassionate treatment of his working-class subject; it remains a biting indictment of the British education system of the time as well as of the limited career options then available to lower-class, unskilled workers in regional Britain. It was ranked seventh in the British Film Institute's Top Ten (British) Films. This was Loach's second feature film for cinema release.


Fifteen-year-old Billy Casper, growing up in the late 1960s in a poor South Yorkshire community dominated by the local coal mining industry, has little hope in life. He is picked on, both at home by his physically and verbally abusive older half-brother, Jud (who works at the mine), and at school, by his schoolmates and by abusive teachers. Although he insists that his earlier petty criminal behaviour 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 left the family some time ago, and his mother refers to him at one point, while somberly speaking to her friends about her children and their chances in life, as a "hopeless case". Billy is due to leave school soon, as an "Easter Leaver", without taking any public examinations (and therefore no qualifications); Jud states early in the film that he expects Billy will shortly be joining him at work in the mine, whereas Billy says that he does not know what job he will do, but also says nothing would make him work in the mine.

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 authorisation 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 about training Kes.

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 intends to purchase meat for his bird (instead the butcher gives him scrap meat free of charge). 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 had flown.


  • David Bradley as Billy Casper
  • Freddie Fletcher as Jud
  • Lynne Perrie as Mrs Casper
  • Colin Welland as Mr Farthing
  • Brian Glover as Mr Sugden
  • Bob Bowes as Mr Gryce
  • Bernard Atha as Youth employment officer
  • Joey Kaye as Pub comedian
  • Robert Naylor as MacDowell
  • Zoe Sutherland as Librarian
  • Eric Bolderson as Farmer
  • Joe Miller as Reg, Mother's Friend
  • Bill Dean as Fish and Chip Shop Man
  • Geoffrey Banks as Mathematics teacher
  • Duggie Brown as Milkman
  • Trevor Hesketh as Mr Crossley
  • Steve Crossland as schoolboy Crossland
  • Harry Markham as Newsagent
  • David Glover as Tibbutt
  • John Pollard as Footballing legend Bremner
  • Julie Goodyear as Woman in betting shop


The film (and the book upon which it was based, by Barry Hines) were semi-autobiographical, Hines having been a teacher in the school in which it was set (and wishing to critique the education system of the time), while his younger brother Richard had found a new life after his student experiences at the local secondary modern school by training the original bird "Kes", inspiration for the movie (Richard assisted the later movie production by acting as the handler for the birds in the film). Both brothers grew up in the area shown and their father was a worker in the local coal mine, although he was a kind man in contrast to the absentee father of the film. 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. 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.


  • 1970: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – Crystal Globe
  • 1971: Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award – Best British Screenplay
  • 1971: British Academy Film Awards

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Kes (película) para niños

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