Carol White’s excellent performance as a young working-class woman in Ken Loach’s first feature gives us a taste of late ‘60s UK and what it feels like to suffer from the misdeeds of men.
Dir. Ken Loach
1967 | UK | Drama | 101 mins | 1.66:1 | English
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for partial nudity and some mature themes.
Cast: Terence Stamp, Carol White, John Bindon
Plot: A young woman lives a life filled with bad choices and has a child with an abusive thief at a young age who quickly ends up in prison.
Awards: Nom. for Best English-Language Foreign Film (Golden Globe)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
More than 50 years ago, Ken Loach made his first feature, Poor Cow. Looking back now, Poor Cow sees the director already in the ‘Ken Loach’ mode as it tackles being poor through the struggles of a young working-class woman. The setting is the late ‘60s in Fulham, though the film was shot in different parts of the UK.
Joy, played by an excellent Carol White in a performance sensitive to the emotional nuances of her downtrodden character, has had her fair share of bad luck, and then some.
Impregnated by a hooligan who later marries her but goes to prison, Joy and her young child must navigate a tough society with men often destabilising her bid to attain some self-respect and be happy. She meets Terence Stamp’s Dave, whom she loves, but that goes awry as well.
“Yeah, don’t forget to get me some nice sovereigns, gold ones.”
“Oh, I’ll try love. You know, not always made to order.”
The misdeeds of men is a key theme of Poor Cow, and how it relates to the sufferings of a genuinely compassionate woman. It is not exactly a depressing film as Loach livens things up with a fine selection of English songs from that period.
His eye for poetic visuals of down-to-earth ‘town life’—kids playing in the alleyways, housewives drying clothes on clotheslines, etc.—are mesmerising and authentic.
Poor Cow is not necessarily an ‘angry’ film, a term that could characterise a number of his works, but more of an observation of the experiences of the poor from the female perspective. Only two years later, Loach would hit it right out of the park with his first masterwork in 1969’s Kes.