Review: Poor Cow (1967)

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Review: Poor Cow (1967)

POOR COW (1967) set in the 60s working class strife of London’s East End, is a portrait of Joy (Carol White)  beginning with a baby and marriage at 18 to the wrong man. The shrill opening song by Donovan, urging the listener to “Be not too hard, for life is short, and nothing is given to man”, sets the tone.

Tom (John Bindon), who in a dramatic arrest as Joy discretely watches on, is sent off to prison and is rapidly replaced by Dave (Terence Stamp). Seemingly kinder and attractive, Dave whisks her off on a camping trip to Wales, where as she later says, “he woke things up in me”. In a shaming court scene, Dave’s character is revealed by a judge showing that Joy has again ended up with more trouble. The fact that she chooses career thieves who are rapidly imprisoned doesn’t help with having the consistent relationship she desires, yet Jonny, her son, does provide it, and she takes that seriously.  Seriously enough to deduce at the end that “all you need is a man, a baby and a couple of nice rooms to live. That’s all it comes down to.” Tellingly, she does not include love or happiness. Joy is totally convincing in the frank assessment she makes of her life, and thereby endearing.

Based on Nell Dunn’s novel of the same name, POOR COW was Ken Loach’s first feature film. He had previously adapted another of Dunn’s novels, UP THE JUNCTION for television. Interestingly Nell Dunn’s life was a complete contrast to Joy’s, and the stories were inspired when she moved to Battersea in 1959 and began working in a sweet factory.

Dunn also wrote the film’s screenplay and the use of Joy as a narrator on the soundtrack reflects the first-person narration of Dunn’s original novel, including the presence of the ironic inter-titles. Joy, a young Bardot look-a-like, had appeared in Loach’s renowned 1966 television play, CATHY COMES HOME. In a 2000 industry poll, it was rated the second-best British television programme ever made after Fawlty Towers.

During 50 years of making feature films, Ken Loach has not lost his gift, which is obvious in this film, for getting to the truth of a story and creating a non-judgemental portrait of a person. Joy is a character who is both raw and heartening. I, DANIEL BLAKE for which he won the 2016 Palme d’Or at Cannes, is a similarly sympathetic portrait of a person in a hopeless situation getting on with life in their own way.

For some other great portraits of young people in the 1960s, have a look at these:

François Truffaut made LES 400 COUPS, translated literally as THE 400 BLOWS, instead of raising hell or something similar, with Antoine Doisnel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a masculine equivalent of Joy. He followed up with three more episodes.

Jean-Luc Godard’s film DEUX OU TROIS CHOSES QUE JE SAIS D’ELLE (Two or Three Things I Know About Her) also made in 1967, follows Juliette around as she searches for relief from her drab suburban existence.

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An Australian who has spent most of her adult life in Paris, Louise is a sometime photographer, documentary-maker, writer, researcher, day-dreamer and interviewer, who prefers to start the day at the local cinema’s 9am session.



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