Beyond The Cover Blogathon: Poor Cow


The sixties is absolutely my favourite decade. It had the best music, films, design and fashion. But it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t all about the Swinging London. There were no fun and games for some. Poor Cow is a novel by Nell Dunn. The writer along with Ken Loach adapted her book to film in 1967. Director Ken Loach is the master of social commentary. And apparently so is Nell Dunn.

I first read the book (Finnish translation Kukkinut ja kukoistanut) and I was disheartened. The story of a young mother Joy (who in her innocence is almost childlike) has married a thug, a thief and a robber named Tom. Life is pretty good as long as Tom has money. The young couple even move to Ruislip that is a more reputable part of London. Joy dreams of a traditional suburban life even though Tom lives the life of crime. And it is inevitable that things will fall apart. Tom gets caught for his crimes and goes to jail for a few years. Meanwhile Joy starts an affair with Tom’s friend Dave and for the first time Joy feels loved and respected. However, Dave is also a criminal and also goes to jail for 12 years. After that Joy is adrift. She finds work in a pub but soon turns to nude modelling and even prostitution. She sends letters to Dave proclaiming her undying love and promises to wait for him. She even tries to divorce Tom but when Tom comes back home she soon conforms to his presence and starts to dream about middle-class life again. And all along the reader knows that her dream is not really realistic. And even Joy herself knows that. Is it better to conform to your class and situation than to dream of a better life? Is it giving up when you face the facts and do whatever it takes to survive? Tom and Dave accept that the life of crime is all they know and make no apologies for it. And Joy doesn’t care how her man makes his living as long as it is also in her and her son’s benefit. The reality of working class life in London in the sixties seems a very dreary one indeed.


The film directed by Ken Loach is kitchen sink at it’s best. Joy’s world is mostly sad, dirty and poor. You know it from the beginning that this town is surely no Swinging London. But what I like most about Ken Loach’s directing is that he always finds a tint of joy and happiness in the most unhappy situations. The part with Joy and Dave’s love affair is so sweet and lovely that you want them to have their happy ending while very well you know that it is not going to happen. The cast is also excellent: Carol White as Joy and Terence Stamp as Dave are wonderful. And Donovan‘s music is just right, comforting and beautiful. At the end of the film you want to believe that there is a way for Joy to be happy even if she doesn’t ever climb the social ladder.


10 Responses to “Beyond The Cover Blogathon: Poor Cow”

  1. I am rarely in my kitchen sink drama mood these days, but when it comes around (as it inevitably will) this is the movie I will seek.

    • grezilda Says:

      I also definitely need a certain mood to watch kitchen sink films. But usually I really enjoy them when I do watch them.

  2. Wow – some really interesting questions you’ve posed, such as What is the kind of life we need to live to be happy? That really gets to the heart of things, doesn’t it?

    Both the film and the book (neither of which I’d heard of) sound thought-provoking. And the cast in the film! Can’t believe I haven’t seen it!

    Thanks for the introduction to “Poor Cow”. 🙂

    • grezilda Says:

      I haven’t read other books by Nell Dunn yet but I just got her short story collection Up The Junction. I hope it is as good as Poor Cow.

  3. John Greco Says:

    I saw this back in the late 1960’s. Remember it being downbeat but not much else. You do make me want to take another look at it.

    • grezilda Says:

      Do give it another chance. When I watch films that I haven’t seen in twenty years, I usually find something new that I totally overlooked the first time around.

  4. Kristina Says:

    This one (and the book) is new to me, interesting and enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for joining the blogathon!

  5. nowvoyaging Says:

    Great post! Thank you for joining us!

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