Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Kes Movie Poster Image
Depressing but beautiful; a top coming-of-age movie.
  • PG-13
  • 1970
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's young teen hero works hard to overcome bad behavior, although he is seen stealing milk and a book. His catching and training a kestrel bird helps channel his energy into something positive, taking on a difficult challenge and succeeding. However, there's a general air of defeat and despair as the kids head toward an adulthood filled with rage and disappointment.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The young teen hero shows responsibility and maturity in catching and training his kestrel, though he doesn't seem to have much luck in the other aspects of his life. The adults in the movie are shown to be (mostly) bullies, angry and frustrated over life in general.


There are some mildly abusive moments at home as two brothers fight and throw a couple of blows. There's a fight at school between two teens, mostly consisting of wrestling, but with a couple of blows landed. A key animal character dies in a violent incident. Otherwise, there's a general sense of frustration and anger by adults directed at kids.


The young teen hero is seen changing clothes and then in the shower during gym class. His naked bottom is visible. In another scene, the older brother tries to pick up girls at a pub. There is some brief, mild sexual innuendo.


"Bastard" is heard several times, and "c--k" once or twice. We also hear "Christ" and "hell." Otherwise, most of the language consists of English slang, such as "sod," "twat," "bugger," "bloody," "arse," and "git." Adults tell kids to "shut up."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens are caught with cigarettes at school, though they are not seen smoking. Older characters smoke cigarettes and are seen drinking. The older brother arrives home from the pub, drunk.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJohn W. August 3, 2020
By the late 1960s, the coal industry in Yorkshire was in decline, and the resulting poverty, apathy and hopelessness of youth in the community is explored in Ke... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byPinkarray May 20, 2015

Why does this movie have to be so mean-spirited?

I couldn't understand the actions so I'm going to have to watch the whole movie in subtitles.

The film tries to shy away from cute with a gritty atmo... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 3, 2013


This is a brilliant film it only contains gore and strong language.

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 ...

  • Families can talk about whether Kes is a good movie for kids. Is it too violent? Too dark? Does the language or smoking make a difference? What about the ending?

  • 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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