10 November 2016



There's not much I can say about film-maker Ken Loach's superb directorial breakthrough film that hasn't already been said. But when did I ever let that stop me from adding my tuppence-worth? It'd take more than that to stop me mouthing off, haha. So where to start? Let's go back in time...

I watched this film when I was a kid and I never forgot the impact it made. Then, in later years, it was always turning up on those list shows on Channel Four and E4. You know the kind of thing. 'THE 100 SADDEST MOVIE MOMENTS' and all that kind of stuff. Like when the couple in BRIEF ENCOUNTERS had to go back to their respective... Ooops. No spoilers here...!

My best mate, who'd never seen the film until I showed it to her recently, was convinced she had seen it purely because of all the times it had turned up on the list shows...! When she watched the film with me and realised that it was mostly all new to her, she was gobsmacked. Flabbergasted.

It's a pretty harrowing story. I honestly wouldn't show it to anyone under twelve. Even before they get to the really sad bit, the bit that's always being shown on the list shows, the story is grim and depressing, but don't worry, it's not without its uplifting bits, and these are the bits that have made the film so iconic.

The grim and depressing bits are indicative of Ken Loach's strong socialist leanings. He'd already made CATHY COME HOME (1966) by this stage, a gritty realistic documentary-style drama about homelessness and, more particularly, what happens when a young woman with kids who can't rely on her husband to sort out a home for the family is left fending for herself in a cold cruel world.

CATHY COME HOME was voted the second best television programme of all time and no, I don't know what topped that poll! I do know that I cried buckets at the ending. Being a mommy myself, it affected me even more than the ending to KES, and the ending to KES, voted the seventh best British film ever made by the British Film Institute, has been known to reduce grown men to blubbering wrecks of snot and tears. How do I know this? Well, a poll told me so...!

KES is the story of a fifteen-year-old boy called Billy Casper who's growing up in an English industrial town (Barnsley) in the 'Sixties. He hasn't many advantages going for him. His single mum, while not actively abusive to him, shows through her neglect of him how little she cares about him. 

Mum is played by Lynne Perrie, who for years portrayed the gobby Ivy Tilsley from telly's Coronation Street, mother of 'our Brian' Tilsley and ma-in-law to the long-suffering Gail. As this was so long ago now, she probably worked in Mike Baldwin's knicker factory over 't' road as well. Eeee, she were great in Corrie, were Lynne Perrie.

Billy's older half-brother Jud, who works down the local coal-mine, is the physically abusive one in the family. He seems to have no love at all for his scrawny, pitifully thin little brother who's seemingly always filthy and hungry, thanks to his Mum's hands-off parenting style. Billy's Dad is not in the picture. He appears to have buggered off at some point. It's a sad set-up for poor wee Billy.

Billy has little or no interest at school. It's just a place he's forced to go to where he's bullied by the cane-happy headmaster as much as by the older kids. Then one day, animal-lover Billy takes a baby kestrel (Kes) out of a nest on a nearby farm and his cold miserable life is transformed as he trains the bird and learns everything that books can teach him about the practice of falconry. Well, one book anyway, the one he nicks from a bookshop...!

The scene where the normally hard-to-teach Billy, encouraged by his kindly English teacher Mr. Farthing, holds his entire class spellbound with his account of training and inter-acting with his beloved bird is a stand-out scene in a film that's full of them.

Billy comes alive with interest, pleasure and enthusiasm as he talks about Kes, the one bright spot in his life, a life he's more than likely destined to end down the mines like Jud. Mr. Farthing, by the way, was played by Colin Welland who sadly passed away last year.

Mr. Welland, who'd also appeared in STRAW DOGS (1971) with Dustin Hoffman, actually won a well-deserved BAFTA award for his role as Billy's sympathetic English teacher. He's my favourite character in the film apart from little Billy himself, who provides us with an acting tour-de-force such as you don't see too often in films with kids in them.

I think the caning scene is a stand-out one also. The headmaster, an out-of-touch-with-reality type of chap who seems to have precious little idea of how the boys in his care really feel about anything, dishes out wallopings willy-nilly rather than finding some other way of reaching them.

In the scene where six or so boys are sent to his office after assembly for the cane, one is only there because he might have coughed in said assembly, another because he looked like he might have been thinking of nodding off (that's Billy, whose paper round has him up at six) in that same assembly and a third, a tiny little fellow, has only come in with a message for the headmaster from another teacher. Hardly caning offences, any of them, but that makes no difference to old Gryce Pudding...!

There's a lot of humour in the checking-a-book-out-of-the-library scene, and in the one where the class plays football, or should I say, where Man. United plays Spurs in a nail-biting clash of... well, two opposing footy teams, haha. Mind you, the same footy teacher is being a sadistic bastard to Billy a scene or so later in the horrible scene in the showers, so the fun only goes so far and no farther, if you get me.

This utterly marvellous film, with its wonderful bird sequences and uplifting musical score, is out right now in a definitive Blu-Ray Special Edition courtesy of EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT and the MASTERS OF CINEMA series. Now, hasn't that just made your day, movie fans?

It comes complete with an array of terrific special features, including an interview with the all-grown-up David Bradley who played Billy when he was just a nipper. He chats away about how his own dad was a coal-miner just like Jud, and how he (David Bradley) shared a love of nature with Billy Casper, although thankfully his own home life was better than poor Billy's. That wouldn't be hard, says you...

He also confides in us some fun facts, like how the lads in the caning scene were actually walloped for real, but after they complained about it they were given fifty pence each, a lot of dosh in those days, for each wallop they received in the re-take scenes. They made the best part of a fiver, or so I understand, in just one week...!

David even shows us the old wall where the kestrel's nest was found by Billy and the old chipper from the film that was re-named CASPER'S in honour of the film that the locals will never forget and never stop honouring. It was just so lovely and nostalgic to see.

The seventy-one-year-old Ken Loach is still making movies. His 2016 film, I, DANIEL BLAKE, won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier in the year. Long may he continue. The film industry needs guys like him. And you guys need to see KES, if you haven't already. It's truly top-notch stuff.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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