Ken Loach by 1967 had made an enormous splash in tele-plays with the original adaptation of Up The Junction and his best known and controversial Cathy Come Home. Naturally a career in the cinema was calling and Poor Cow was his debut feature which would start this extraordinary and long career in the cinema. He recently won his second Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake which puts him in an elite group of filmmakers to win the Palme d’Or twice, only 9 filmmakers have pulled off that feat.
Poor Cow is very much of its time, it’s more akin to some of the dramas of Jean-Luc Godard than much of the kitchen sink dramas of the British New Wave. It uses title cards throughout which was common in Godard’s films at the time. Loach has cited Godard’s à bout de souffle as his favourite film in one of those Sight & Sound polls. However instead of making films which are basically pastiches of Hollywood films (which is what Godard did no matter what some critics may say) he takes more from Godard’s inventive way of telling stories through their episodic structure.
Carol White who was the considered the Battersea Bardot is the lead who is a young mother who is married to the real scumbag of a husband Tom (John Bindon) who is a small time criminal. Things starts to look up after he is sent to prison and she starts seeing his associating Dave (Terence Stamp) who is much more caring decent guy despite his criminal tendencies. The entire film is told through snapshots of her wife with the different men of her life. The film also uses music to carry the film which uses a lot of early Donovan and some other pop songs of the time.
The film is an important point in both the two lead’s careers. Carol White would soon attempt to make it in Tinseltown (which didn’t go well) and Terrence Stamp would soon start his wilderness years where he did lots of little-seen films in Europe until his “comeback” with in 1978’s Superman. Both however give fine performances here and Stamp still speaks fondly of the film in the interview included on the disc, White died tragically in 1991 under mysterious circumstances. Weirdly enough footage from Poor Cow was used by Steven Soderbergh is his masterful gangster film The Limey as a flashback for Stamp’s lead character.
Loach is very much finding his voice here and is trying a lot of different techniques it even ends with breaking the 4th wall with a talking heads styled interview. It doesn’t always work and the narrative it’s a bit all over the place but it’s an important stepping stone for Loach from his television work to his film work. Loach’s next film Kes is perhaps his best and certainly most loved but a lot of what would make Loach one of the pillars of British cinema is on show here.
Poor Cow is currently doing the rounds of art house cinemas but of course most people will see this re-release on Blu-Ray/DVD. The transfer is solid but it’s certainly not the film you would somebody as the pinnacle of the Blu-Ray experience. The features include new interviews with Stamp, Loach and the screenwriter Nell Dunn who also wrote the novel it’s based upon as well as Up The Junction. It’s rounded off with an archival interview with Carol White and a fairly poor feature on the British New Wave.