9th October 2017 6.00pm at Vue West End
9th October 2017 6.30pm at Vue West End
15th October 2017 8.40pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
Adrian Shergold’s edgy comedy Funny Cow exudes a certain vintage Britishness. Taking place in the 70s and 80s, atmospherically there is a tinge of East Enders and classics like Alfie.
Although humorous, the movie delves into the serious issues of domestic violence and sexism. Maxine Peake plays a woman who has been abused and physically beaten by men all her life. Everyone calls her a f**king cow. As a child (Macy Shackleton) she is regularly punched by her father, and after his death the little girl exclaims “Yipee!”.
Seeking to be a comedienne in the misogynist environment of Northern England’s men’s clubs, she is discouraged by all, told that “women aren’t funny”. Self-confident and defiant – despite enduring constant bullying and black eyes from her husband Bob (Tony Pitts – also scriptwriter), and worry about her mother’s (Lindsey Coulson) alcoholism – she is undeterred. Humour is her way of coping with pain and she breezes through her life as if nothing can touch her. After meeting a gentle intellectual in a bookshop, Angus (Paddy Considine), her “knight in shining armour” – who is besotted with her – she asks him to rescue her, and leaves her brutal husband. However, feeling alien in his bourgeois world, she eventually leaves him also, to his grief.
Ultimately, the woman concludes, “It’s always been too much for me, life – too much and not enough, all at the same time”. Regardless, soldiering on, she befriends an ageing comic, Lenny (Alun Armstrong), who is losing his comedic touch. From this friendship her star is born. In a bawdy club with rowdy, rude customers, she proves a woman can be funny, with her sassy off-colour jokes and wise-cracking put-downs of hecklers.
Funny Cow is on stage from the opening scene and intermittently, not cracking one-liners, but describing her existence. Around these points of narration the story is effectively linear with flashbacks. Camera angles, lighting, set design, costuming, styling and moving, soulful music by Richard Hawley convincingly evoke an atmosphere of another era. The acting is faultless, and Peake is outstanding.
As a comedy Funny Cow has a subdued, wry humour rather than side-splitting hilarity. Tough and gritty, there is unhappiness and pain underneath the bravado – the characters are just trying to survive. But, in the spirit of balloons offered by a little girl, they prevail with defiant optimism and a good laugh.
Funny Cow does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2017 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.