Kes Reimagined to air on BBC Four with dancing, music and puppetry homage to Barnsley classic

A reimagined version of Kes including dance, music and puppetry will air on television this week.

Ken Loach’s film, based on Barnsley writer Barry Hines' novel, was a huge success in 1969.

Kes Reimagined. Credit: Simon Harper PR.

Kes Reimagined. Credit: Simon Harper PR.

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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 and will be broadcast on BBC Four on Tuesday November 19 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.

Barry Hines and Ken Loach in Sheffield, October 1981. Picture by Ian Soutar.

Barry Hines and Ken Loach in Sheffield, October 1981. Picture by Ian Soutar.

Watkins feels Kes is embedded into the DNA of Barnsley, and said: “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."

Like the protagonist in Kes, Yorkshire-born Watkins also grew up thinking outside of the box.

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He moved to London when he was 12 years old to attend the Royal Ballet School.

Ken Loach. Picture: Julian Brown.

Ken Loach. Picture: Julian Brown.

While 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.

He said: "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.

He was keen to share the work with a wider audience and while 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.

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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.

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 and 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 PE 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.

After the film festival in Leeds, Kes Reimagined was screened in Sheffield, Halifax and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.