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Kes (1969)

Main image of Kes (1969)
35mm, colour, 113 mins
DirectorKenneth Loach
Production CompaniesWoodfall Film Productions
 Kestrel Films
ProducerTony Garnett
AdaptationBarry Hines
 Kenneth Loach
 Tony Garnett
Original novelBarry Hines
PhotographyChris Menges
MusicJohn Cameron

Cast: David Bradley (Billy Casper); Freddie Fletcher (Jud Casper); Lynne Perrie (Mrs Casper); Colin Welland (Mr Farthing); Brian Glover (Mr Sugden); Bob Bowes (Mr Gryce)

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A young Yorkshire boy takes new interest in life through his respect and love for the kestrel he trains, Kes.

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Kes (1969) was Ken Loach's second feature film, and marks his move away from the self-conscious experimentalism of his earlier work.

As before, Loach developed a close partnership with the author of the source work, in this case Barry Hines, on whose novel A Kestrel for a Knave the film is based. Loach worked with both Hines and producer Tony Garnett to adapt it as a film script.

The dominant theme of Kes is the way in which the education system stifles the talents of many young working-class children, offering them little choice but to follow the narrow path laid out for them by an industrial capitalist society which sees them as fit only for unskilled manual or office work. This theme runs through much of Loach's work.

The influence of Italian neo-realism film-making can be traced in Kes, as in Poor Cow (1967). Loach explained, "the camera's job was to record in a sympathetic way and to be unobtrusive, not to be slick." Loach and his cameraman Chris Menges didn't, as is common in fiction films, mark spots for the actors to hit, but instead tried to accommodate the actors' movements. Loach, though, has admitted that throughout his films, including Kes, "I lay traps, as it were," for example by moving furniture. The apparent simplicity and directness of Loach's filming thus contains an element of manipulation which is hidden from both the audience and the actors.

Casting is also a striking feature of Kes. Colin Welland, as the English teacher, Farthing, was the only professional actor in the cast, although several, notably Brian Glover as the bullying Games teacher, went on to acting careers. All of the pupils, including Dai Bradley, who gives a remarkably natural performance as Billy, came from the Barnsley school in which the film was shot, while the headmaster was played by the school's own head. As with several Loach films, many of the adult cast were found in local clubs where they worked as entertainers and comics. Loach has commented that he casts for "authenticity of age, class or region," believing that even skilled actors cannot disguise their class origins under the close scrutiny of the camera.

Initially, there were difficulties in getting Kes shown, and it had a patchy release after opening in Doncaster. Since then, however, it has become one of Loach's best known and admired films.

Ros Cranston

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Video Clips
Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
My Ain Folk (1973)
Sammy Going South (1963)
Garnett, Tony (1936-)
Hines, Barry (1939- )
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
Welland, Colin (1934-)
From Pit to Screen
Ken Loach: Feature Films