"I think that it's a kind
of pride, and as you say independence. It's like an awareness,
a satisfaction with its own beauty and prowess. It seems to look
you in the eye and say, 'Who the hell are you anyway?'."
from the novel A Kestrel for a Knave, by BARRY HINES (Penguin
These are the original promo pics for the film. Click on the
pic for a larger version.
Casper the Friendly Ghost
A child actor of 14 gave one of the most instinctive
and moving film performances of all time. This is our tribute
to David Bradley's performance in 'Kes', a film by Ken Loach.
It was the summer of '68. Jumpin'
Jack Flash playing on the radio. And a movie was being made in
Barnsley. Even though the money for the movie was coming direct
from United Artists in Hollywood, the setting was a world away
from the kind of films they normally produced, and later these
same Hollywood backers would despair at the thick Yorkshire accents
and the gritty realism of the story about the boy and his hawk.
At the heart of it all was a scrawny kid from St Helens Secondary
Modern who had done a few school plays and was pretty good at
football. His name was David Bradley.
Director Ken Loach had already made some notably stark social-realist
films earlier in the decade. 'Cathy Come Home', 'Up The Junction'
and 'Poor Cow' all made waves when broadcast by the BBC because
of their lack of sentimentality and their documentary feel. Loach
and producer Tony Garnett - looking for a new project - had been
keeping in touch with a young writer from Hoyland Common by the
name of Barry Hines, a teacher with two kids. Hines had a big
idea inspired by his younger brother's attempts to train a kestrel,
and by his experiences in local schools. After writing a novel
'Kestrel For A Knave' and presenting it to Loach and Garnett ,
a film crew, including cinematographer Chris Menges, was soon
busy working around Barnsley's coal fields and Secondary Moderns
and auditions had the town buzzing.
The film that they made, with only
one actor of note (Colin Welland), a few local cabaret people
(Lynne Perrie, Dougie Brown), and a whole heap of raw schoolkids,
is now a legend. Loach transferred his inner city intimacy out
to the countryside and perfectly caught the moment. Menges captured
the extraordinary juxtaposition of heavy industry and open countryside.
Shots of coal-miners walking to work, of workingmen's club entertainers,
of blackened factories spewing smoke, of lush woodlands, and of
red brick streets punctuate the film central theme of a working
class waif with no prospects finding escape through training a
Hines had brought in a friend of his, an English teacher called
Brian Glover, to play the games teacher Mr Sugden, and one of
the most memorable scenes in English film history was born. Sugden's
strutting around the football pitch as Bobby Charlton surrounded
by bored and miserable boys struck a chord with any young lad
forced to play footie on a miserable school day . Brian Glover,
who died in 1997 was our best loved voice after a career that
took him into the National Theatre, the RSC, and Hollywood itself
(Alien 3, American Werewolf In London, Leon the Pig Farmer).
Almost all those involved in the
movie went on to bigger things. Ken Loach went on to direct a
series of uncompromising films, including Hidden Agenda, Riff-Raff,
Raining Stones and his latest - about the Spanish Civil War -
called Land And Freedom. Tony Garnett would produce more award
winning dramas, such as This Life and Between the Lines. Colin
Welland got a Best Screenplay Academy Award for Chariots Of Fire.
Chris Menges would receive three Oscars for cinematography (Puttnam's
Killing Fields, and The Mission, and Neil Jordan's Michael Collins)
and would direct five movies himself, including A World Apart.
But the young lad whose marvellous performance made the movie
so powerful didn't find things quite so easy. David Bradley the
man is still acting, though he lived unemployed in South London.
He worked for a time in Peter Hall's company at the Old Vic and
has starred in plays in South Africa. Now a44 he's still plugging
Kes the movie wasn't an immediate success and it took time to
get it released. In America it was overdubbed to help audiences
comprehend the film, but apart from a showing at the New York
Film Festival it had no impact at all. Now though it is widely
regarded as a film classic. It was recently voted No.7 in the
top ten British films of all time, alongside The Third Man, Laurence
of Arabia, and The Thirty-nine Steps.
To those of us brought up in Yorkshire,
though, it's a towering achievement. It put our voices, our people,
our struggles, our aspirations up on the big screen and for that
it will always be number one. Looking around our schools there
are hundreds of Billy Caspers running around, full of frustration
and pent-up energy, and in the old mining areas there's precious
little to look forward to for lads like this. In the movie young
Billy is sliding into a world of manual labour and a dead end
job. Now, his young equivalents will be signing on when they leave
school this Easter. In this sense, Kes still flies uncomfortably
close to home. Casper's ghost still haunts the land.
with Dai Bradley in The Guardian, as the film is re-released in