British director Adrian Shergold has produced a swag of outstanding work for both TV and film, including Pierrepoint and Holding On. His latest work, Funny Cow, follows in the tradition of gritty, depressing, British dramas, set in the North. In fact even the title is surely a nod to the Ken Loach classic, Poor Cow.
The impeccable Maxine Peake stars as Funny Cow, a woman brought up in poverty and violence. She is rebellious and fiercely individual, even standing up to her violent father when her mother can’t. Shunned at school and regarded as mad, she eventually climbs her way up the stand-up comedy ladder, working the notoriously hard men’s clubs of England’s north.
Written by Tony Pitts, who also stars as her sometime husband Bob, the screenplay takes the form of FC’s monologues to camera, interspersed with scenes from her life. These pieces move inexorably from standard humour, through soul-searching, to philosophical musing. This is not the standard narrative arc. The writing never drags, wallows or hits a flat note.
Alongside Peake and Pitts, the rest of the cast is outstanding. Special mention to the ubiquitous Paddy Considine as Angus, Kevin Eldon as Danny, Lindsey Coulsen as Mum and young actor Hebe Beardsall as Young Funny Cow.
In the nature of the filmic tradition of which it now forms a part, this work is moving, upsetting and very real. Its examination of the life of a rebellious woman, especially in the 60s, is authentic and sympathetic. It has moments of dark beauty, and, despite its title, very little humour.
Candida Otton’s production design, thank god, doesn’t go over-the-top with the grey, depressing, Northern street-scapes. The subtlety with which she approaches the work adds enormous value visually and thematically.
This is the kind of film that stays with you, and gives you pause.
As Funny Cow herself says: “I’ve always found life too much. And not enough.”
Funny Cow opens this week and is playing at several cinemas around Adelaide.
Check out the official site here.