Loach made his name directing television plays, but it was his second cinema feature Kes that demonstrated the extent of his cinematic imagination. Adapted from Barry Hines’s novel A Kestrel for a Knave, it tells of fifteen-year-old Billy Casper (David Bradley), who seems destined for a life in the coal mines of his home town, Barnsley. But Billy’s discovery of a kestrel, and his dedication in training it, give him optimism – however temporary.
Chris Menges’s cinematography is as lyrical as John Cameron’s score, which seems to reflect Billy’s hidden potential while simultaneously sounding cautionary notes. Loach’s relaxed direction of a cast that includes ex-wrestler Brian Glover and future Chariots of Fire writer Colin Welland is as impressive as the unsentimental tenderness with which he depicts Billy’s life.