15-year-old Barnsley schoolboy Billy Casper (Bradley) finds release from the struggles of under-achieving school days and a poor, fatherless family, by catching and training a baby kestrel.
Based on Barry Hines' novel A Kestrel For A Knave, this was the film that marked Ken Loach's big-screen debut in 1969. Building upon his reputation for grittily realistic TV plays, Loach pushed kitchen sink drama one stage further into quasi-documentary.
Having no experience, Bradley can't help but be natural, winning viewers' hearts from the first scene when bullying big brother Jud (Fletcher) makes him late for his paper round by nicking his bike. Billy steals, daydreams and is useless in class, but remains one of the screen's most loveable rogues - even before the beautiful scenes of him with his kestrel on the moor. Perfectly pitching the screenplay's sensitively woven story and natural ear for dialogue - the film's original US distributor thought Polish more discernible - Loach's low-key take is just the right side of sentimental.
The film is peppered with astonishing debuts from mostly non-professionals. Best of all is ex-wrestler Glover as the vaguely sadistic sports master, who almost steals the film during the farcical football match. Look out, too, for Lynne Perrie (who went on to infamy as Ivy Tilsley in Coronation Street) as Billy's brassy mum.
Unforgettable when it first appeared 30 years ago, Kes remains something of a landmark. It's not a radically improved print but the simple beauty of the film shines through.