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Film Review Classic: Kes

Posted on by sam

Film Review Classic: Kes

Director: The Lord and Saviour of British Film Ken Loach (1969)

My cool mum, who has recently taken to ditching me for her cool friends, gave me two pieces of feedback to my The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review………

1, She didn’t like the swearing

2, She didn’t approve of me jumping on the Jimmy Savile referencing bandwagon

I now find myself enduring quite the identity crisis; on the one hand my integrity as a poorly educated, thinks he knows it all but doesn’t, wannabe indie filmmaker requires me to continue using a healthy amount of swearing, on the other my birthday’s coming up (22nd of February you didn’t ask) and my cool Mum and Dad are the most efficient route to replacing my malfunctioning Ipod. Happily I’ve reached a well-thought out and intelligent compromise;

There is no compromise, who cares about integrity when an Ipod’s at stake.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that this film Review Classic concerning the film Kes will contain no casual swearing, no references to Jimmy Savile (aside from the previous two explaining why there will be no future references) and that I fully intend for this to be the case from now………………….until the day I receive my new Ipod, then it’s back to unimaginative swear word inserting-ville.










Plot summary time…………….

Kes is about the sh………… hard life of Yorkshire young’un Billy Casper (Dai Bradley who plays 15 by looking 12). Billy dreams of being a dancer really doesn’t have the opportunity to do many things, even basic things like sleep. Sleep is an opportunity denied to Billy by his older half- brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) a brute of a Barnsley man whom Billy has to share a bed with. Jud follows a strict routine; get up early, abuse Billy, go to work, finish, get drunk, come home, abuse Billy, go back out, get more drunk, stumble home, abuse Billy, sleep……………….If you’re keeping score, that’s Billy’s opportunity to not live in an abusive environment eliminated as well.

Billy’s Dad isn’t around, judging by his mother’s approach to parenting that might not be a bad thing. Billy’s mum is a bit of a bi………………… difficult lady (nicely portrayed by Lynne Perrie who was in Coronation street apparently). She does have a kind side, if giving your son a few pence for a bottle of pop before you go out on the razz falls into the category of kind, but she’s also distant and takes absolutely no responsibility for Billy at all. She refuses for instance to buy him a P.E Kit simply because he’ll be leaving school next year, doesn’t stand up to the tw……………… Jud and never shows Billy the slightest bit of affection.

School does provide Billy with a few opportunities, but they’re not great. There’s the opportunity to get caned by sadistic headmaster Mr Gryce (A fantastic Bob Bowes, whose name seems to have been better than his career) a man who can’t quite come to terms with the youth of today and their desire for a better life and sh…………….. stuff, he’s sort of like if the Daily Mail was a person. If Caning isn’t his thing Billy can always play school football which I suppose some people might call an opportunity (they’re wrong, school football is horrible, especially if you wear glasses and have no coordination), but even that’s ruined ever so slightly by the presence of Mr Sugden (Brian Glover, a former wrestler who basically didn’t age in appearance for four decades). Mr Sugden is that happy mix of sadism and perversity you usually only find in corrupt policemen and he shows real prowess in utilising his role as both player and referee to relive his failed dreams of being a professional footballer while kicking lumps out of and borderline torturing any student daring to not do exactly as told.

AND AS IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH………………….. School also provides Billy with the option of fighting the resident bully on the school coal pile, because apparently in 1969 schools had coal piles on their playgrounds, which is better than the dirty needles of my day I suppose.

So not a lot really going on for Billy then, least not until he steals a baby kestrel from its mothers nest, like a di…………. boss. Naming the bird Kes he tries his hand at falconry which, ignoring an unfortunate incident involving a bout of book stealing, proves to be quite a positive move. In fact Billy becomes so dedicated to Kes he manages to impress his English teacher Mr Farthing (Colin Welland who won an OSCAR for writing Chariots of Fire).

Then there’s an end……………………..

Plot summary finishes.

Normally at this point (translation: in the two classic reviews I’ve actually written) I write my opinion and then sum up why I think the film is a classic. Change of pace this time so get ready to hear why Kes is a classic and then what I think of it, it’s just easier this way, trust me.

Kes is a classic because it’s so unlike anything else from its time. While the hippy dream was still stubbornly resisting it’s inevitable death (turns out dropping acid = bad in the long term)  and swingers down in the affluent south were waiting to discover the ease at which venereal diseases spread, Kes (and the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines that the film was adapted from) stuck two fingers up (literally, check out the cover below) and showed there was a whole other side of life in England, one that for the most part up to that point was being horribly ignored.










In the north you were born, lived and died in a poor (often little) town, usually being paid pittance (this was long before general strikes got a fair wage, then went too far and broke the country) to risk life and limb down mines and usually had to choose whether food or warmth was the most pressing need that particular month. This was a world where placing a winning bet on a horse race was considered an aspirational goal. Then our Lord and Saviour of British cinema Ken Loach came along.

Listen, in the late sixties there was a lot going on in terms of challenging cinema, but most of that was either the back end of the French-style new wave stuff (La Nouvelle Vague because I like using French words) or British film directors making various attempts to show boobs, violence or sexual intercourse on screen. What Kes did was brush that ethos aside in favour of gritty realism and social challenge. Where film can be perceived as truth, Kes attempted to reflect that truth rather than give audiences an easy or superficial ride, more importantly/impressively, it succeeded.

Singlehandedly defined a genre, demonstrated there was a wider desire for intelligent material amongst cinema goers, gave a neglected region of the country a sense of pride in their identity while also leaving them slightly less isolated to the rest of the country and many years later provided one of the most unfunny comedians in British history a catchphrase which at least made his show watchable for 6 seconds…………….. if you were stoned off your ti………….. breasts, and slightly drunk and catatonic.  These, my none existent readers, are the hallmarks of a classic.

The Lord and Saviour


Stop and listen, you hear that? That’s the sound of you not asking what I thought of Kes.

Now’s here’s the sight of me replying by posing a question.

Is it fair to criticise a film made years before I was born simply for being dated?…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… yes, yes it is.

Kes has dated horribly. It tediously plods along for a good twenty minutes before even considering the possibility of getting going, it has very obvious dubbing and some of the accents are so thick they render entire scenes indecipherable. There was one scene where Billy met an older man in a field, I honestly thought I was watching Billy get propositioned by a paed………..  not very nice man, thankfully I was wrong and the older man was the farmer who owned the land where Kes’s nest was. Also Kes gets very very bleak very very quickly, there’s not a lot of happiness to find in watching Kes for quite a while, in fact until the falconry starts taking off for Billy you could be forgiven for calling the experience of watching it punishing.

For all that though, when it comes down to it, I kind of love Kes. Yes it’s bleak, but this is realism not escapism and no one owes you anything that’ll make you smile; only tears are free. It’s not the bleakness or the fact it’s a tragic enough film to induce said tears that I love about Kes though. What I love is the care that’s been taken, a real respect has been shown to the characters, a whole world is fleshed out and no short cuts are taken in the name of plot expediency or audience entertainment. The Lord and Saviour Ken Loach films I’ve seen have always made the effort to show the fascinating complexity of the human condition, or if you prefer less tw……………. Toss-potty language, Ken Loach films have always taken care to show that real life is interesting too.

Kes shows that this trait has been running through Loach since his early work and it’s so refreshing/confidence boosting/important to see a British filmmaker making a film with a desire for something greater than profit or because it’s the only way channel 4 would fund them. I really feel like Loach felt Kes was a story worth telling. So that’s why I love Kes, because it helps a wannabe indie filmmaker like me believe in something that little bit more and is a reminder that despite the dark superficial days of ‘safe’ films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Sweeny (review coming pending the return of my ability to watch Ray Winstone without punching the screen) cinema is and always will be worth defending………….. defending from what I have no idea, I just thought that sounded cool.

I’ll end with this, the British Film Institute, who I’ve never dealt with but fear incredibly that they will point and laugh at me when I do, rank Kes as the seventh best British film of all time. Ignoring for one moment how fu…………………… inane such a list is and how much of an arrogant cu…………. Overly confident individual you’d have to be to even attempt one, by my reckoning it should be four places higher.

Written By Sam ‘excluded from his housemates pancake day 2013 for being Jewish……………. And it begins again’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

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