A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this classic of English cinema is one of the greatest coming-of-age movies ever made, though it's hard to imagine kids under 12 sitting through it today. It's long and grim, not specifically plot-focused, and it doesn't have a happy ending. Though it's in English, the South Yorkshire accents are so strong that it requires subtitles for American viewers. It contains some strong language, including "bastard" and "c--k," as well as some British slang. There is a schoolyard fight and fights between brothers. A key animal character dies in a violent incident, which could upset younger viewers. Young teens are caught with cigarettes, though we don't see them smoking. Adults occasionally smoke and drink beer. Teens with a little patience and a sense of adventure will be strongly rewarded by this superb, powerful movie.
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What's the story?
Billy Casper (David Bradley) is a skinny teen who has a paper route before school, and is not above nicking a bottle of milk from the back of a truck. We learn that he was once involved in a gang and is now trying to go straight. He's not a particularly good student, nor is he good at sports, and he's prone to trouble. Outside of school, he discovers a kestrel nest, and decides to catch one and train it. He tries to check out a book from the library, but is rudely turned away when he doesn't have his mum's signature. So he nicks a book from a shop. He experiences some glorious moments while working with the bird, and even brings his stories to class one day. Will Billy's experience prove to be more than just a temporary escape from the harsh realities of Billy's family, environment, and future?
Is it any good?
Ken Loach's film is grim and rambling, and without a clear victory, yet it's one of the most powerful coming-of-age stories ever told, containing passages of great beauty. It has come to be regarded in some circles as a children's classic. Based on Barry Hines' book "A Kestrel for a Knave," Loach shoots the film like a documentary, simply observing long sequences of the hero at school, suffering the indignities of both the classroom and the football field.
In any other movie about a boy who trains a kestrel, we might expect that the boy finds his "wings," so to speak. But perhaps less than a quarter of the film's running time is actually devoted to the kestrel. Loach's approach feels more honest and more political, mirroring the kestrel training with the efforts of adults to "train" and control young people, breaking their spirits. None of this dulls the heartbreaking power of the ending: a simple tragedy that cuts through everything and goes straight to the heart.
Talk to your kids about ...
Why are most of the adults in the movie unhappy? Is there a connection between the adults' attitudes toward kids, and the boy's attitude toward his kestrel? How do adults influence kids' behavior?