Set in a rugged northern 1970’s backdrop Adrian Shergold’s Funny Cow revolves around a female struggling to breakthrough the male dominated comedy scene. What ensues is a grim and stark narrative following our nameless heroine as she faces patriarchal adversity at the hands of an abusive father, husband and society itself. The film takes an unconventional style – choosing to explore her life in flashbacks, amongst her comedy act, as she reminisces on stage. This leads to an interesting art house style of film as the character directly talks to the audience and on one occasion converses with her younger self.
The films title misleadingly flaunts the idea of comedy yet in reality there are very few laughs on display. Rather taking a tonally darker and more serious biopic approach, exploring heavy hitting topics of abuse whilst giving insight into her resilience against the odds.
Despite this approach, the film is laced with comical moments that ultimately span from the powerful performance by Funny Cow herself played by Maxine Peake – best known for her role in James Marsh’s “A Theory of Everything”. Peake conveys a lovingly defiant and stubborn character who through her sharp and witty dialogue lightens every scene. Her characters captivating and inspiring attitude, in both the childhood flashbacks and her adult life, becomes the driving force of the film.
Disappointingly the film never grasps a high and proud conclusion of the likes of Billy Elliots failing to achieve the rise to fame success moment. Perhaps this allows for a more grounded approach documenting with passivity the pre and post success of our protagonist in an occasionally jumbled series of flashbacks.
With a display of udderly (sorry) stellar performances and a compelling narrative Funny cow overall succeeds and never fails to lose its heart.
Funny Cow is screening at thescreen Stortford on Tuesday 19 June at 2pm and 7.30pm – book tickets now.