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Kes is a 1968 British film from director Ken Loach and producer Tony Garnett. The film is based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave written by the Barnsleymarker-born author Barry Hines in 1968. The film is ranked seventh in the British Film Institute's Top Ten (British) Films and among the top ten in its list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.


DVD cover for Kes
The film focuses on Billy Casper, who has little hope in life beyond becoming a coal miner and is bullied both at home, by his physically and verbally abusive half-brother, Jud, as well as at school. He is mischievous himself; he steals milk from milk floats, gets other students into trouble and generally fights and misbehaves. Billy comes over as an emotionally neglected boy with little self-respect. His mother refers to him in the film as a "hopeless case".

Outside cadging money, smoking cigarettes and day-dreaming at school Billy has no positive interests. His greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner but he has no apparent escape route from what would ultimately be his fate. That is until he finds an outlet from his pitiful existence through training a kestrel that he takes from a nest on a farm. His interest in learning falconry prompts Billy to steal a book on the subject from a secondhand book shop as he cannot get a borrower's card for the Public Library.

As the relationship between Billy and "Kes", the kestrel, during the training improves 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 on his relationship with the bird.

However, when Jud sends Billy off to place a bet on a horse, Billy spends the money on chips, as he assumes the horse is unlikely to win. However, the horse does win. Jud is furious at Billy, and takes revenge by killing his kestrel because he could not find Billy.

Location and cast

Both the film and the book provide an authentic portrait of life in the mining areas of Yorkshiremarker of the time. The school used as the main set was St. Helens School, Athersleymarker South, but has since been renamed Edward Sheerien Schoolmarker.

Set in Barnsleymarker, the film contains broad local dialects. The cast have authentic Yorkshire accents (West Riding to be precise) and used or knew the dialects. Extras were all hired from in and around Barnsley. David Bradley, who played Billy Casper, and Freddie Fletcher, who played Jud, were both born in Barnsley. Lynne Perrie was from Rotherhammarker, which has a slightly different accent to Barnsley. The film is often used in schools for classes on English language: it is less common nowadays to hear the old West Riding dialect.

Main cast

Actor Role
David Bradley Billy Casper
Lynne Perrie Mrs Casper
Freddie Fletcher Jud
Colin Welland Mr Farthing
Brian Glover Mr Sugden
Bob Bowes Mr Gryce
Kathleen Scherer Ms Gardener


* Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Colin Welland)
* Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (David Bradley)

See also


  1. BFI's Top Ten (British) Films
  2. 17th Karlovy Vary IFF: July 15 - 26, 1970 - Awards. Retrieved June 2008.
  3. Awards for Kes (1969). Retrieved June 2008.


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