Director: Ken Loach
Music: John Cameron
Cinematography: Chris Menges
Billy Casper (Bradley) is a schoolboy, around 14 or so, his visage looks awfully older than his real age and his scrawny skeleton makes him smaller among his schoolmates, he lived in a coal mine town of England, his father is absent, his mother (Perrie) is negligent and his worst nightmare is his bigger brother, Jud (Fletcher) who cannot leave him in peace even in sleep because they have to squeeze in the same bed. Billy has to moonlight as a paperboy every morning to supplement household expenses before going to the Protestant school, where he constantly succumbs to the receiving end of the browbeating from his peers, or a tyrannic football coach (Glover), or a diatribe from the pontifical headmaster (Bowes) and his cane, even so, school is better than working in the dangerous pit where Jud currently works. Subconsciously Billy is rebellious to the adulthood whereas there is no hope in his bleak future (hard-hitting political philosophy is Ken Loach’s unwavering trademark which can already be pungently detected in his second feature-length).
Nevertheless, Billy has developed a keen eye on falconry, he has no qualm to snitch a book about it in a secondhand bookstore, and finally steals a fledgling kestrel from its nest, which he names Kes and it becomes one glimmer light in Billy’s otherwise dismal life, he trains Kes every day in a green field, from baby steps with jesses until it can soar unbridledly, composer John Cameron renders the melodious oboe to personify Kes’ presence, and a sublime coexistence occurs, later, as Billy’s benevolent teacher Mr. Farthing (Welland) sagely points out, there is a serene power of silence created by Kes, whenever it flaps, hovers, glides and swoops. To Billy, Kes is never a pet, it cannot be tamed, instead, he is a caretaker, to feed and train it regularly, to appreciate the time when he can observe this sacred creature within close-range. A mutual equilibrium which lays bare the ultimate harmony between human and nature, unfortunately it is doomed to be broken, Loach never condescends to emotionally manipulative his audiences to elicit pathos, instead he brandishes his camera like a stern bystander, shows us the brutal reality as it happens.
David Bradley is wondrous to behold, for all his falconry competence, the utterly effortless line-delivery out of his apparent low-class grubbiness and his emotional crunch near the end is drastically affecting, a BAFTA win for BEST NEW COMER is fairly-honoured. Colin Welland, who also won a BAFTA for BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, is the saving grace of all the human characters around Billy’s life, he and Bradley fabricate the most touching moments in this rather bleak tale, and he would later win an Oscar as a screenwriter for CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981). Lynne Perrie as Billy mother, doesn’t have too much screen time, but she defiantly defies the usual cliché of a single mother who doesn’t love her offspring, in this case, she is just incompetent to assume the job as a mother, she doesn’t understand Billy and has too much grouch to the dire situation and a good-for-nothing Jud, even among all the domestic disturbance near the end, we can accuse her not love Billy, such a sheer insight of the dreadful reality of parenthood.
The film is adapted from Barry Hines’ novel A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE, which is intrinsically in agreement with Ken Loach’s working-class inclination, KES is undisputedly among the best crops of UK productions dedicated to the ordinary hoi polloi, a timeless classic about a boy and his kestrel, the entrancing oneness between man and nature, and a soulful cautionary tale of a time should not been forgotten, or maybe it is still present elsewhere in this imperfect world.