Restored by MGM and rereleased by Park Circus, British classic Kes (1969) makes a welcome return to theatre screens. Tied into a Ken Loach retrospective at the BFI, the film marked Loach’s cinematic breakthrough after success in television docudramas, and remains one of his best known works. Set in a small Yorkshire village, it focuses on Billy (Bradley), a working-class boy caught between an aimless future, a failing education system and a broken home. Forming a close bond with a kestrel, Billy is able to briefly transcend his everyday life, only to experience further tragedy.
Kes is grimly realistic, with Loach and cinematogapher Chris Menges’ casting its grey Yorkshire setting in long shots, extended takes and documentary-like intimacy. But it’s also a richly drawn portrait of a community overflowing with observational humour and daily rituals. Perhaps more than any other contemporary British director, Loach’s films are always redeemed by their characters, and Kes is no exception. From working men’s clubs to deluded teachers and Billy’s own mix of frustration and uncontrolled enthusiasm, it is as much a community study as a clearcut narrative.
The print restoration itself is excellent, reducing grain and layering Menges’ washed-out color palette in sharp detail. This alone makes Kes a well-justified reissue by classics specialist Park Circus, who also have new prints of West Side Story, La Piscine and The Last Waltz prepared for the autumn season. There is a small but loyal market for reissues in the UK, as demonstrated by ICO and Optimum’s recent success with Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob. Whether as part of the BFI’s Loach season, or on its own limited release from this week, Kes deserves a re-appreciation.