Kes, director Ken Loach’s classic 1969 film about a boy growing up in a mining town in northern England, has finally come to Blu-ray in the form of a special edition from The Criterion Collection. In America, this is the first time the film has been widely available in years, though it’s considered one of the top 10 British films of all time by the British Film Institute.
Casper (David Bradley), a scrawny, sensitive boy growing up in a rough middle class neighborhood. He’s faced with a bleak world, and an even bleaker future down in “the pits,” the mines in which his brother works and dominate the town. Most of the teachers in his school are strict and unyielding. He’s already dismissed as a lost cause. He finds solace in the form of a wild kestrel. Casper raises the bird, bonds with it, spends endless hours training it to fly free and then return to him. These sequences, especially, are photographed and edited with a truly elegant beauty that captures both the beauty of the bird’s flight, and Casper’s special bond. Casper’s relationship with Kes offers a faint glimmer of hope, but can it last?
Though this is might seem to simply the story of a boy and a bird, this isn’t a children’s film. It’s the story of a boy caught in a system that threatens to devour him alive.
Though technically not an independent film, Kes was shot with a grittiness and authenticity that still offers lessons for filmmakers today. Loach’s direction of the largely non-professional cast, including the young lead, was top-rate. It was shot on location in Barnsley, the setting of the book on which it was based, Barry Hines’ A Kestral for a Knave. Hines also wrote the screenplay. Special mention should also be made of John Cameron's moving score, simple yet powerful, and never overstated.