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Kes is a 1969 film by Ken Loach, based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. It starred (relatively) unknown actors with perhaps a handful that people might recognise, which has led to the movie being categorised by film historians as a social realist movie. It was Loach's second film that he ever made and became a Breakthrough Hit when released, although the thick-accented characters made the film stumble a little outside of the UK.

In the mining town of Barnsley in Yorkshire, fifteen-year-old Billy Casper (David Bradley) is the child pariah of the area. He is bullied at home and school by everyone, making his mother feel as if she can never understand him. This is probably because Billy has a history of stealing, but has left it behind him (although he'll occasionally steal some eggs and milk), and nobody wants to trust him. With the whole world seemingly against him, Billy becomes interested in kestrels and uses his skills of deception, sneakiness, and theft to try and train the animal falconry.

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Tropes

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Billy is not only bullied at home, but at school, too. Even by the teachers.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Billy has a terribly short attention span, especially in school. It's part of why he's such an attractive target for the many Sadist Teachers.
  • Big Brother Bully: Jud for Billy, even though they're half-brothers.
  • Break the Cutie: The news of Kes's death at Jud's hand utterly destroys Billy.
  • Butt-Monkey: Billy for definite.
  • Character Development: For Billy after he adopts Kes the Kestrel. He steadily comes out of his shell, but his overall dissociated attitude doesn't change too much.
    • Some minor development is given to Mr. Farthing, who starts off as sceptical and dismissive of Billy as the other teachers, but he quickly warms up to the lad after seeing his electric passion for falconry and witnessing for himself the extent to which Billy is unfairly ostracised at school.
  • Child Hater: The teacher characters are very likely this, given how they constantly treat their students. See Sadist Teacher and Would Hurt a Child.
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  • Crapsack World: Downplayed. The portrayal of Northern England in Kes isn't exactly pretty.
  • Delinquents: Billy is a former one and we follow him on the road to change, although that doesn't stop him from relapsing.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Billy. He finds his purpose after he meets Kes.
  • Downer Ending: Jud kills Kes. Billy gives the bird a funeral by the hills where he used to train with her.
  • Hidden Depths: To every other kid in school, Billy's kestrel training hobby comes off as this, especially since he's usually so quiet and boorish. When he makes a presentation showing his passion for it, the other kids start paying more attention to him.
    • Billy is also remarkably acrobatic.
  • Karma Houdini: Jud gets no comeuppance for murdering Kes aside from being weakly told off by his mum, which is a pretty regular occurrence anyway.
  • Kids Are Cruel: It's rare to find a kid that is nice to Billy.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: From the regional accents to the bleak ending, this is definitely a social realist film.
  • Meaningful Name: Kes is obviously short for kestrel, the name of the species of the bird.
    • Billy's name is likely derived from the phrase "Billy No-Mates" in reference to his isolation. Continuing off of this, his surname, Casper, could possibly be an ironic reference to a certain friendly cartoon ghost. Although Downplayed slightly, as he does have a few friends, but none of them are very reliable.
  • Oh, Crap!: Billy's reaction when he learns that Jud would have won over £10 had he placed the bet. note 
  • Oop North: This film is set in Yorkshire.
  • Precision F-Strike: One use of "twat" and several uses of "bugger" was enough for the British censors to argue over whether the movie should be rated as suitable for all or a PG. It later settled on a PG.
  • Sadist Teacher: Nearly all the teacher characters in Kes are portrayed as very cruel, tyrannical people who constantly abuse their power and look for any excuse to punish or scream at a student, even for coughing.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The PE teacher seems to think he's hot shit at football despite being overweight and shorter than most of the boys in his class, treating the football game as Serious Business and blatantly breaking the rules to get an edge.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The film's score is overall very light and whimsical, which heavily contrasts against the bleak setting and tone, though it helps to keep the film from sliding into total soul-crushing nihilism.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Jud. When Billy doesn't bet on any horses, he retaliates by murdering Kes.
  • Token Good Teammate: Out of all the teachers, Mr. Farthing is the only one to ever stick up for and empathise with Billy, even going so far as to give the schoolyard bully MacDowell a taste of his own medicine. He's easily the most likeable supporting character in the picture.
  • Would Hurt a Child: As mentioned on Sadist Teacher, most teachers in Kes like to yell at kids for very minor infractions and even slap them or hit them with a cane, as was common practice in schools throughout the early to mid 20th century.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Perhaps one of the cruellest in even Ken Loach's library, but at virtually the exact moment things start to look up for Billy, his own half-brother spitefully murders Kes, bringing the boy back to the miserable, passionless existence he had at the story's beginning.

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