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United Kingdom 1969
Directed by
Ken Loach
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Ken Loach’s second feature, based on the novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barnsley-born author Barry Hines tells the story of Billy Casper (David Bradley) who has little hope in life beyond becoming a coal miner in his native Barnsley. A likeable rapscallion and hardly a paragon of virtue himself, he is bullied, both at home by his physically and verbally abusive half-brother and at school, more by the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child ethos of the State educational system than by his schoolmates. He finds solace from his dispiriting condition in the company of a kestrel that he takes from a nest on a farm although in a genre-typical move, this ends when the loutish half-brother kills the bird in an act of revenge.

As one would expect from Loach and his producer Tony Garnett who formed their own production company to make the film, it is an empathetic portrait of its subject who is both an engaging individual in himself and for the film-makers the epitome of his social conditions. In his pursuit of authenticity of the cast at the time only Colin Welland, who plays Billy’s sole encouraging teacher, was a professional (although Bradley would pursue an acting career)and Loach preserves the broad Yorkshire dialects, something which makes the dialogue difficult to understand at times (beware of versions that have dialect words and phrases replaced with 'proper English.).

As a record of a place and time the film remains invaluable, but although ranked high in the BFI’s list of favourite 20th century British films, considered as drama the amount of purely observational material is much greater than is necessary. 




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