There's no boy-and-his-pet sentimentality here: the relationship between Kes the bird and the puny, taciturn Billy is the kinship, full of wary respect, between two wild creatures, and when Kes for the first time flies free and returns to Billy's wrist, the sense of exhilaration is overwhelming.
Although Loach never rams his message home, it's clear that Billy stands for a whole generation of youngsters whose potential, barring some such chance event, will never be even fractionally realised. Chris Menges' photography brings out all the austere beauty of the Yorkshire locations, and Loach draws believable performances from his largely non-professional cast--especially the 14-year-old David Bradley, stunningly convincing as Billy. And anyone who has ever suffered under a bullying, self-satisfied sports teacher will squirm with recognition at the brilliant cameo from the late Brian Glover. --Philip Kemp