BBC Four to Broadcast Choreographer Jonathan Watkins' KES REIMAGINED
Ken Loach's film Kes was a huge success in 1969. Now, five decades later and Kes Reimagined revisits the story of youngster Billy Casper and the kestrel which he trains. The new film, by award-winning choreographer Jonathan Watkins and director Ross MacGibbon, premiered at Leeds International Film Festival last week and will be broadcast on BBC Four on Tuesday 19 November at 10pm.
Loach's film is based on Barry Hines' 1968 best-selling novel A Kestrel for a Knave and is set in Barnsley in the sixties. Choreographer Watkins also hails from the same South Yorkshire town where the story became a firm favourite for the young dancer and his friends. They all came of age quoting lines from the book.
Kes is the story of boy and bird, set in a Yorkshire mining community and takes audiences on a journey with Billy Casper and his dysfunctional family. The young working class boy, troubled at home and at school, finds solace when he befriends and trains a kestrel. As the beloved Kes swoops and spins freely in the Barnsley countryside a special bond between boy and bird unfolds. Billy's potential is finally recognised and the boy's self-confidence soars.
Like the protagonist in Kes, Yorkshire-born Watkins also grew up thinking outside of the box. He moved to London when he was 12 years old to attend The Royal Ballet School. Whilst training, Watkins developed a talent for choreography and he won the coveted Kenneth Macmillan Choreography Competition when he was 16 years old. His love of the tale of Billy and his kestrel went to London with him.
Watkins feels Kes is embedded into the DNA of Barnsley, and comments: "Kes was always in my heart and my head because I grew up in Barnsley. It is the story that everyone in the town knows. Everyone has seen the film or studied the book at school. I'm from one of the small villages in Barnsley where, watching the film growing up, you would recognise so many places you knew.
In Kes we see a young person that hasn't got a good home life, who feels isolated and not connecting with school but somehow through sheer luck drops on something special in a wild bird. There's a great message in Kes in terms of finding your path and what you're passionate about. The story has never been autobiographical for me but I found a passion in dance, theatre and telling stories that has led me to where I am. That's my kestrel."
Watkins' audience and critically acclaimed Kes was first seen in 2014 as a dance theatre production created for The Crucible in Sheffield. Watkins was keen to share the work with a wider audience and whilst choreographing his next production, an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 for Northern Ballet, he worked with film director Ross MacGibbon and The Space, and the conversation began about turning Watkins' Kes into a film.
The Space supports greater digital access to the arts and helps cultural organisations across the UK to use digital technologies to reach wider and more diverse audiences. Kes Reimagined marks the first co-production that the organisation has entered into.
Kes Reimagined reunites the creative team behind the 2014 stage production. Watkins is winner of 'Best Classical Choreography' at The Critics' Circle National Dance Awards (2016) and 'Best New Dance Production' at The South Bank Sky Arts Awards (2016) for Northern Ballet's take on Orwell's 1984. The original score is by Tony Award nominated Alex Baranowski. Puppetry design and direction is by Rachael Canning. Set and costume design by Ben Stones has been reworked for film and adds video elements by Daniel Denton. Lighting design is by multi Olivier and Tony Award winner Mark Henderson.
Six members of The Crucible's original cast return for the new film. Chester Hayes reprises his role of Billy Casper and is joined by new cast members, Kristen McNally (Principal Character Artist of The Royal Ballet) plays Mum, and Tobias Batley (formerly Northern Ballet Principal, Winston Smith in Watkins' 1984) plays Jud, Billy's wayward brother. Also returning for the screen are Dom Czapski as the sympathetic teacher Mr Farthing, Anton Skrzypiciel portrays Headmaster Mr Gryce, and Phil Snowden is Mr Sugden, the self-loving P.E. teacher.
Laura Careless and Barnaby Meredith play multiple roles and master Kes puppetry to symbolise Billy's escape from the harsh realities of his daily life.
Kes Reimagined premiered at Leeds International Film Festival on 7 November 2019 before being screened in Sheffield, Halifax and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.