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Poor Cow (1967)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

London, the present. Joy gives birth to Jonny. Returning home, she has an argument with her criminal husband Tom, who wasn't expecting her so soon.

Joy and Tom move to Ruislip following a successful robbery. Their relationship deteriorates, with major rows starting over trivial domestic incidents. Tom takes part in an ambitious robbery, but is caught and jailed.

Joy takes Jonny to live with her Aunt Emm, who reminisces about the harshness of life a few decades earlier. She believes that the Assistance Board is more use to her than men.

Tom's friend Dave steals wage packets containing £250, and takes Joy and Jonny out for a treat. They go back to his flat (which Dave is looking after for his brother while he's in prison), and Joy offers to make it look more attractive. While Jonny sleeps, Joy and Dave make love.

Joy, Dave and Jonny go for a trip to Wales. Joy is unnerved by a flock of sheep, but holds her own when Dave criticises her cooking, ending up flinging the saucepan of tinned stew over him. Later, they kiss under a flowing waterfall.

Joy visits a fortune-teller, who tells her that she's destined to stay with Dave, but something will happen to keep them apart in the meantime.

Dave tells Joy that he's going out with his friends Peter and Bernie and doesn't know when he'll be back. He returns in the early hours of the morning, having robbed a jeweller's. Joy is too distracted by the loot to listen to his story of having locked their owner in the cupboard.

Dave is put on trial for his part in the robbery. During his summing up, the judge reveals that Dave struck his victim over the head, leaving her almost blind. He lists Dave's previous convictions before sentencing him to twelve years in prison. Joy leaves the court in a daze, but vows to stick by him.

Joy gets a job in a pub, and is trained by Beryl not only in the specific job requirements but also in how to persuade men to part with their money. She writes to Dave telling him about how lonely she is, and reassures him that no-one has taken his place. In the pub, she is repeatedly chatted up.

Joy and Beryl try their hand at modelling for a camera club. Egged on by the men, their poses grow increasingly suggestive and uninhibited. Jonny ruins her hairpiece and she smacks him.

Joy takes numerous lovers, matching them to specific moods. She complains to Beryl that Dave wants her to be like a nun.

Joy visits Mr Pinker, a solicitor, to discuss a divorce from Tom. When told the grounds on which she can claim one, she cites physical and mental cruelty. He asks her if she has ever committed "an indiscretion", and she says yes, but only once.

Joy visits Dave, who tells her he's heard rumours that she was picked up by someone in a pub. Joy assures him that he only gave her a lift. Dave said that if she was unfaithful, he'd leave her immediately.

Joy goes for a beach holiday with Jonny. They run along the beach and play on the dodgems.

Tom is released from prison and is shocked by the squalor of Joy's existence. They attempt a fresh start, and Joy encourages Tom to plan a major robbery. Tom says that he needs money to bribe policemen with. During a violent argument over the time she took to pay the rent, Joy reveals that she might be pregnant.

Joy dreams about getting a car and driving away, knowing that her only other option to get rid of Tom is if he's imprisoned for a long time. She doesn't want to leave because she's worried about Jonny and how he might end up. Jonny goes missing, and after a frantic search Joy finds him playing on some waste ground. She admits that if it wasn't for Jonny she might consider prostitution.

Joy muses about Dave, believing that of all the men in her life, he's the one who brought out something that she never knew was there.