Ken Loach's 1970 film "Kes" is a classic of its kind. Brutal, honest, painful, with moments of joy, humour and tragedy. The film, based on Barry Hines' book A Kestrel for a Knave, concerns a schoolboy in a poverty-stricken Yorkshire mining estate. Young Billy (David Bradley) is trapped in an inescapable cycle of deprivation, caused by poverty wages, an absent father, a failing school and a troubled mother. His problems are exacerbated by the ridicule and abuse he receives at school and a bullying older brother at home.
The film takes place in Billy's final year at school in which the various factors contributing to his hopelessness, coalesce to seal his fate - of not being able to escape from the poverty and powerlessness that has been his lot. His school is an especially grim place, with a headmaster (Grice) who thrashes and berates his pupils, in the apparent belief that education in a meritocracy should lift people from their circumstances - and if it fails to, is simply the fault of the individual. Unwilling to see the social-economic system as the problem, Grice is left with the only option - to blame the victim. While Grice is a worrying character, Brian Glover as the idiotic (and juvenile) PE teacher is like some PE teachers I remember from school, slightly dangerous - and very funny. Colin Welland, as Mr Farthing is one of few sympathetic characters in the film, a teacher genuinely interested in helping the boy, yet his sympathy and care is in itself also powerless in the face of wider social forces.
Sullen, quiet, withdrawn and defeated, young Billy finds an interest which at last inspires him, spurs him to read, to engage and instills hope within him for the first time. He finds, and hand-rears a baby kestrel who he names 'Kes', teaching, training and flying his beloved bird every day. The relationship between the boy and the wild creature is beautiful, and a key part of the film. In one memorable scene, Billy speaks to Mr Farthing's class about the art of Falconry - suddenly speaking with knowledge, authority, eloquence, and passion; qualities entirely absent from his life until that point.
Once again though, the central message of the film is rammed home by Ken Loach that most political of film-makers; as even this individual hope is snuffed out in the cruelest of ways.
This is a really memorable film, quite brilliantly acted and directed. There are several films in which child-actors with very pronounced accents are a problem for the viewer from outside that region - but not here. This is rather a captivating representation of a group of people, a time, a place, a set of social circumstances and the characters interactions within it. This is emotionally charged, thoughtful and highly political film-making. HMV have been selling the DVD at around £2 as well, an absolute bargain!