British director Ken Loach is probably best known for his second feature film, Kes (1969). Loach also directed the famous TV drama, Cathy Come Home (1966) starring Carol White. Less well known is his first film, Poor Cow (1967), also featuring White, and a young Terrance Stamp.
Kenneth Loach, as he is credited in Poor Cow, brings a gritty, kitchen sink drama to the screen in the story of 18-year-old Joy, as she marries her abusive boyfriend Tom and has a baby. After Tom is imprisoned for armed robbery, we see the continued choices that Joy makes through the years as a single mother.
Loach wrote the screenplay with Nell Dunn, the author of the novel on which the film is based. However, actor Terrance Stamp has said that the film was mostly improvised, to give it a more realistic feel.
Carol White is perfectly cast in the role of Joy. Her strong resemblance to Julie Christie fits her into the 1960s styling of the film, and her performance brings the realism that is needed to show a woman struggling in times of post-war hardship. Poor Cow has many entertaining characters, but only Joy is explored in depth.
As brilliant as this performance is, Poor Cow is let down by its lack of plot. Although only running at 100 minutes, the film feels longer with its drawn out scenes. It is a film made to make the audience think; to think about the choices that Joy is making, and how they will affect her future. Regardless, it still feels as if the film is missing something. It is just not an overly gripping film.
Poor Cow gives us a slice of 1960s London, and has an important place in social history and within the ‘kitchen sink drama’ genre. As iconic as Ken Loach is to 20th Century filmmaking, I feel that his other work is rightly held in higher regard.
Poor Cow will be released on Blu-ray on 25th July 2016.