Poor Cow is a 1967 British drama film, directed by Ken Loach and based on Nell Dunn's novel of the same name. It was Ken Loach's first feature film, after a series of successful TV productions. Set in London, the title is a cockney expression with the word "cow" referring to a woman, and not to the animal cow.
DVD cover for Poor Cow
|Directed by||Ken Loach|
|Produced by||Joseph Janni|
|Screenplay by||Nell Dunn|
|Based on||Poor Cow (novel)|
by Nell Dunn
|Edited by||Roy Watts|
Vic Films Productions
|Distributed by||Anglo-Amalgamated (UK)|
National General (US)
|Box office||$1,400,000 (US/ Canada)|
18-year-old Joy starts her catalogue of bad choices by running away from home with Tom. They marry and have a son, Johnny. When Tom, a thief who mentally and physically abuses Joy, is jailed for four years after attempting a big robbery, she is left on her own with their son.
After briefly sharing a room with her Aunt Emm, an aging prostitute, she moves in with Dave, one of Tom's former associates. Dave is tender and understanding in his treatment of Johnny and Joy, but the idyll is punctured when Dave gets 12 years for robbery. Intending to be faithful, Joy writes to him constantly, moves back with Aunt Emm, and initiates divorce proceedings against Tom. She takes a job as a barmaid, starts modelling for a seedy photographers' club and drifts into promiscuity.
But when Tom is released, Joy agrees to go back to him for Johnny’s sake. One evening, after Tom has beaten her up, she runs out of their flat and returns to discover that Johnny is missing. After a frantic search, she finds him on a demolition site. Realising how much Johnny means to her, she accepts the need of compromise and stays with Tom, but she continues to dream of a distant future with Dave.
- Carol White as Joy
- Terence Stamp as Dave
- John Bindon as Tom
- Queenie Watts as Aunt Emm
- Kate Williams as Beryl
- Billy Murray as Tom's mate
- Tony Selby as Customer in Pub
- Anna Karen as Neighbour
- Michael Standing as Man in Field
Although Malcolm McDowell is listed in the credits, the scenes in which he appeared were deleted.
Terence Stamp says Ken Loach was inspired to write the film after meeting Carol White during Cathy Come Home:
But he really didn’t write it; we didn’t really have a script. That was one of the things that was interesting about it. It was just wholly improvised. He had the idea, he had the overall trajectory in his mind, but we didn’t have a script. And, consequently, it had to be Take One because each of us had cameras on us. So before a take, he’d say something to Carol, and then he would say something to me, and we only discovered once the camera was rolling that he’d given us completely different directions. That’s why he needed two cameras, because he needed the confusion and the spontaneity.
The film was a surprise success at the box office. It sold to the US for more than its production cost and did extremely well in Italy and Britain.
The opening credits attribute the film music to Donovan, although many pop songs from the era are heard in the film. Three Donovan songs are heard in the film, including the title song. The melody of the title song is repeated instrumentally in diverse arrangements in several parts of the film. It was later released as single b-side to "Jennifer Juniper" in early 1968 in a different arrangement and with altered lyrics. For example, the standard release version opens with the line "I dwell in the north in the green country", while the version in the film opens with the line "I dwell in the town in the grey country".
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p377
- "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
- Sam Adams, "Terence Stamp on accents, first takes, and playing a transsexual ", AV Club 10 July 2013 accessed 16 July 2013