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A young woman lives a life filled with bad choices. She marries and has a child with an abusive thief at a young age who quickly ends up in prison. Left alone she takes up with his mate (another thief) who seems to give her some happiness but who also ends up in the nick. She then takes up with a series of seedy types who offer nothing but momentary pleasure. Her son goes missing and she briefly comes to grips with what is most important to her. Written by
Fred Cabral <email@example.com>
You know what to expect when the first scene in Ken Loach's "Poor Cow" is a graphic image of Carol White's character giving birth to her son, although for my taste this was taking documentary realism to extremes. For the remainder of the film we follow White's progress, if that's the right word, for the next few years as she lives a mostly tawdry life on the edge of both poverty and legality, interacting with a mostly dubious set of individuals in not-so-swinging London in the mid-60's.
The narrative is somewhat awkwardly interspersed with chapter plates, presumably written by White, although these don't actually aid the structure of the piece as the film progresses pretty much on a tangential basis although as an insight into her character's naive optimism and childlike simplicity, they may serve some purpose.
Loach's soon to be trademark fly-on-the-wall camera-work is never still, long-shots, extreme close-ups, walking shots, tracking shots all to convince us like his acclaimed TV documentary "Cathy Come Home", of the previous year (with the same actress in the lead) of the veracity of his subject, stripping away all cinematic artifice. In this he succeeds, inviting no pity for her, only portraying her making do and working with what she has, with little prospect of escape.
Of course this unremittingly bleak outlook can be overbearing and cold and there are many scenes where he could and should have called "Cut!" earlier, but as an insight into the working class of supposedly affluent Britain, it's important to hold up a mirror to society as he does here.
In the final scenes, when White is reunited with her temporarily lost child, we are brought full-circle to that shocking opening scene as he reminds us that family love is perhaps the only true love. Whether it will be enough of a basis for White to break out and make a life for herself and her son is debatable so that some sort of a sequel might have been interesting to consider.
The cast is an interesting with one with Terence Stamp demonstrating his range as the crook who White falls for and who shows her a kind of loving, even as the film makes clear in the only stagy scene in the film, his courtroom trial, that there are no victimless crimes. As in "Cathy Come Home", White holds the viewer's attention with her disarming honesty, vulnerability and spirit. Interesting to see the notorious John Pindin in a prominent role too.
You don't watch a Loach film for comfortable viewing but as an agent-provocateur, turning over stones most would step over, he's an important director in British cinema.
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