After making British television films and Poor Cow (1967), director Ken Loach made Kes, his most enduring movie. Taking in school and home life in an area where nature meets the mining industry on the Yorkshire skyline, it’s the story of Billy Casper (David Bradley), a smart but wayward boy who lives with his mother and older brother and who, despite a quick mind and tongue, has a reputation as a rogue. Kes marked a new maturity and stillness in Loach’s work, which doesn’t mean it’s without energy or humor—it has both in spades.
He found fitting partners in cinematographer Chris Menges, who translated Loach’s eye and ear for documentary-style realism into a quiet form of natural-lit observation, and writer Barry Hines, whose compassion and knack for everyday dialogue runs through the film. The ideas in Kes on the roles of both teachers and parents emerge naturally and gently from vital, believable portrayals. It’s a bird that gives the film its name: The scenes with Billy and his falcon are undoubtedly special and tender. But in the end, Kes is one of the most astute, engaged films about education and what it takes for kids to get excited about learning—or be passionate about anything, really, whether in the classroom or roaming the fields with a feathered friend.
Cast and crew