Kes is a 1969 drama directed by Ken Loach and produced by Tony Garnett. Based on Barry Hines’ 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, 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 is bullied, both at home by his physically and verbally abusive half-brother, Jud, and at school. He is mischievous, stealing eggs and milk from milk floats, has difficulty paying attention in school, and is often provoked into tussles with classmates. Billy’s greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner, but he has no apparent escape route until he finds an outlet 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 is underage and cannot get a borrower’s card from the public library.
As the relationship between Billy and “Kes”, the kestrel, improves during the training, 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.
Jud leaves money and instructions for Billy to place a bet on two horses, but Billy spends the money on chips and on meat for his bird, after having been told that the horses are unlikely to win. However, the horses do win (meaning Jud would have won over £10 if Billy had put the bet on). Furious at Billy and unable to find him, Jud takes revenge…