Kes is a 1969 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 Barnsley-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.
The film focuses on 15-year-old Billy Casper, who has little hope in life and is bullied both at home, by his physically and verbally abusive half-brother, Judd, 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. Billy's mother refers to him in the film as a "hopeless case". His father is dead.
The film shows scenes of Billy's school. The headmaster canes a group of boys who were caught smoking. One scene of comic relief in an otherwise bleak film is of a gym teacher (played by Brian Glover) taking part in a football game, fantasising about himself as Bobby Charlton and commentating on the match in his head.
Outside cadging money and day-dreaming at school, Billy has no positive interests. His greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner (at that time, British miners were amongst the lowest paid workers in the developed world), 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 Judd 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 wins (meaning Judd would have won over £10 if Billy had put the bet on), and Judd is furious at Billy, and takes revenge by killing his kestrel because he could not find Billy. Judd confronts his mother and Billy finds his kestrel, who is now dead. Billy shows his kestrel to Judd and his mother, leaving Judd angry at him, but Billy leaves to stop the confrontation. He buries his kestrel in the same garden he found the bird.
Both the film and the book provide a portrait of life in the mining areas of Yorkshire of the time. The school used as the main set was St. Helens School, Athersley South, but has since been renamed Edward Sheerien School.
Set in Barnsley, the film contains broad local dialects. The cast have authentic Yorkshire accents and used or knew the dialects. The extras were all hired from in and around Barnsley. The DVD version of the film has certain scenes dubbed over with fewer dialect terms than in the original. (Sheffield Star circa 2003)