"A Woman With A Funnybone For A Backbone"
Cast: Stephen Graham, Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake
Director: Adrian Shergold
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 102 minutes
Synopsis: 'Funny Cow' charts the rise to stardom of a female comedienne through the 1970's and 1980's. It is set against the backdrop of working men's clubs and the stand-up comedy circuit in the North of England. From her troubled childhood to her turbulent adult relationships, the Funny Cow uses the raw material of her life experiences to bring her unique style of comedy to the stage. A stand-up comedienne in an all-male world, 'Funny Cow' delivers tragedy and comedy in equal measure.
Maxine Peake plays the role of a lifetime as 'Funny Cow' with Tony Pitts as her tragic soul mate 'Bob', Paddy Considine as her middle class lover and Stephen Graham playing two roles as her brother'Mike' and her dad. The film was written by Tony Pitts, and is directed by Adrian Shergold with Richard Hawley providing the soundtrack and music.
Release Date: July 26th, 2018
About The Production
Maxine Peake/Star Of Funny Cow And Executive Producer Tony Pitts/Scriptwriter And "Bob" In Funny Cow
The idea for Funny Cow came from a discussion I had with the writer Tony Pitts while we were both shooting with James Marsh on Red Riding 1980. Tony had said he would love to write something for me and did I have any burning stories I'd like to tell. I told him about my fascination with WMC's and the performers who did the circuit.
I talked about my admiration for Marty Caine and how tough it must have been for a woman to rise through the ranks in the Northern clubs in the 70's. Tony had grown up like me, round those clubs and his Mum had known Marti. So he got to work on a script.
I didn't know Tony very well at this point and had little idea whether he could write or not! A month or so later I went up to meet him at his then home in Hebden Bridge. He showed me the script. I sat down, I read it and I cried. It was beautiful. He had captured perfectly the atmosphere of this times. The harshness of it all but also the brutal poetry. He had created a role of a lifetime. I knew this was a film I had to do.
On the initial idea:
Maxine (Peake) had asked me to write something for her when we were on the set of Red Riding. Something which was rooted in the background of working men's clubs of the 70's . We became friends. I jotted the idea down and then got to work, about 2 and a half hours work… it poured out of me. To me Funny Cow is an unblinking obituary and an unblinking unsentimental commentary to a culture that I grew up in.
On The Red Balloon:
The Red Balloon I saw as a child in Sheffield in 1969 when I was a 7 year old and the closest thing in my life to an epiphany, and in the film I am really laughing at myself (re the scene with Angus and Funny Cow in the cinema watching the Red Balloon).
I was brought up in the steelworks in Sheffield and I saw that film and the whirling romance and power of it, I saw as a child I remember laying on my sofa and watching it and just being transported and it stayed with me. That and the book by Cyril Connelly Unquiet Grave. We are going to start wandering into the inexplicable…something about escape, I was a curious and friendless child, and always on the outside. I don't watch films, I've watched no more than 15 or 20 films in my whole life. I've watched Red Balloon about a 100 times. It keyed in to my psyche…
The idea of dreams, and "flying on Salisbury Plain" and the monologue (at the end) is pretty much autobiographical.
On the working mens clubs:
Those jokes are all jokes from the time. Memories of those times - the 70s. As a kid I wasn't allowed to come in. Unimaginable glamour working in a club on a Saturday night – when everyone else worked at the steelworkS. A place of unimaginable sophistication. And me dad would come back from the club on a Saturday night with 6 pints of lager in him and repeat some of those jokes..
And Richard (Hawley) tells these jokes all the time…
On Richard Hawley:
Richard and I are shaped by the same things, from the same place but we didn't find each other until our late 40's. Nobody else could have written the music for Funny Cow. Nobody else. We have worked together before and I don't have to explain to him – I can just say it's a film about this and he goes away and writes something and comes back with something really special. He is the most underrated songwriter we have got. Everything has a double meaning, nothing what it appears to be about, and he came from tough streets. Really tough streets.
If I'm explaining and they don't instinctively understand then it's not going to work and that goes for all my collaborators. Richard has the same thing that Maxine has – the ability to see something that I have kind of seen, but they identify it. Maxine doesn't miss a thing, not one single beat. And Richard gets it - his music ultimately reflects the heart of the piece. And Music is the most direct form of art. Straight from the heart to the heart.
And Adrian… I've worked from Loach to Spielberg as a jobbing actor for 37 years. When I met Adrian it was another Richard or Maxine moment. You are handing your baby over to somebody else, and you don't want them to bash its brains out. Adrian instinctively understands it and understood the love in the piece, which runs right through it, but its a love that is fucked up and twisted in all sorts of shapes. Adrian Shergold/Director
I was sent Funny Cow by Kevin Procter about two years ago......I had never read a screenplay quite like it. It was anarchic ,mad, irreverent, funny ,sad....it had no real structure...it just jumped around in story times from the late fifties through to the eighties....it was disturbing ,as if it had been written by someone with its his heart on his sleeve , someone who had an innate understanding of the woman he was writing about.I told Kevin how much I liked it and it would be nice to meet the writer. His name was Tony Pitts he had written for Radio but this was his first movie script. Tony was also an actor ,he was born in Sheffield and at the age of sixteen was plucked off the streets to be in a Ken Loach film. When that ended he realised he couldn't go back to working in a factory....and decided to try and earn his living as an Actor. We met in the Soho Theatre in Dean Street....we spent an hour together talking, Tony had a train to catch and I had to get back to my cutting room.....we later discovered that we were very alike....always having to have a reason for not staying in the same room.....somewhere in our heads we always thought we might be in the wrong room....but we clicked as writer and Directer....he handed it over. Two years later we have made it.
The journey has been bumpy, stop and start ....trying to raise finance.....maybe shooting in Ireland ......Wales...Belgium....and of course quite rightly England Yorkshire where we ended up. Like Funny Cow says 'when I was a kid I thought I could fly..and once we started to shoot I was flying with it. Each scene I shot, was for me as important as if it was the first scene or the last.
Where it might come in the film was not important at this stage. In my head I decided It could wait until we got into the edit . It didn't have to be scene six it might be scene forty nine.....I never asked Tony if that was alright because I didn't want to know the answer....but l knew when he wrote it he had no specific plan....he just wrote what he felt there was no order....no rules.....At the wrap party I sort of asked him if scene nine was supposed to be followed by scene ten....He gave me a look....and said "that's your job isn't it."
There is a scene in Funny Cow where she goes into a Green Shield Stamp Shop.. (a shop where you exchanged stamps you have collected for household goods) She queues up to exchange her stamps and when asked what she wants she says 'I want some hope' and when told they don't do hope takes an ordinary household item. This scene never made the final cut but for me it was the key for how the film should work...one minute you're smiling the next you're on the floor. There is a wonderful sense of desperation in Tony's writing that attracted me to this script, also it was like a stream of consciousness ....a sort of poem. The other amazing thing about this project was that Funny Cow was going to be played by Maxine Peake. I had worked with Maxine about ten years before and had seen her work on screen and in the Theatre. Tony had written for her. It's her story and only hers...for me the camera has to stay with Funny Cow. I went up to meet Maxine at the Royal Exchange about eighteen months before we started. We talked about Funny Cow and I told her that I wanted the camera to be constantly with her....her story....if she left the room we went as well. The film wouldn't observe, it would be almost her point of view ....I wanted the audience to feel they had walked on stage with....suffered and laughed with her. In the finished film only twice did we break that rule, as for Funny Cow, rules are there to be broken..... This whole film has been a rare experience.....fantastic actors Maxine , Paddy ,Tony Stephen , Hannah .... Great kids Macy Shackleton....Hebe and Tom as the younger Bob and younger Funny Cow.....and the Remarkable Alun Armstrong as Lenny The film was shot in 26 days in and around Leeds. We used anamorphic lenses and it was lit by Tony Ling .Steadicam by Roger Tooley designer Candy Otton ,Costume John Krasau Make up And Hair Christine Allsop editor Tania Reddin .Wonderful music by Richard Hawley John Krausa/Costume Designer
From my preliminary meetings with Adrian there were going to be three actors playing Funny Cow and I knew they needed to be linked. The story covers four decades and jumps back and forth so we decided to use an old costume favourite. Red is a colour usually avoided as it can be strong and overwhelming, but it seemed right for the atmosphere of the film. It made her visually pop and emphasised her individualism, strength and peculiarity. Kevin Proctor/Producer
The script is incredibly cinematic and bold. Once Adrian Shergold, the director, started collaborating with Tony, the structure became a more linear storytelling device but without losing the energy and rawness of Tony's voice.
Adrian brought a deft and visual imagination to the film which takes the poetry of Tony's sensitivity towards his world and captured it beautifully.
Maxine Peake is Funny Cow. There are not enough superlatives that justify the performance Maxine gave. Maxine was with the project from the inception and her commitment to the role was profound. The film was always going to be very complicated. We have four decades in the life of Funny Cow to explore through certain 'vignettes' in her journey. The concept of the film was to be almost 'hyper-reality', a fantastical journey that side-stepped social realism and embraced a more profound approach. Candy Otton, our designer, created a wholly accurate representation of a world that is recognisable and still exists. John Krausa, the costume designer, created an unmistakable colour theme for Funny Cow that resonates throughout the film. Funny Cow has a contemporary relevance, even though it is essentially a period piece. The core relatable aspects of relationships and emotions run though the spine of the story.
The pitch-perfect performances of all the cast and the dedication of a highly organised and skilled crew is testament to the passion embraced by everyone involved in this film. Mark Vennis/Producer
Mark has worked in the film industry for 25 years. In 2001 he formed Moviehouse Entertainment with Gary Phillips, the former head of sales at J&M Entertainment.
He has executive produced Blind Flight, the true story of Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, Fear X, the first English language film from acclaimed Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, The Rage In Placid Lake starring Miranda Richardson, Australian film noir Swerve, British theatrical hit Nativity 2, and been involved with music documentaries Live Forever, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man and Julien Temple's The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson amongst others.
Kevin Proctor came to him with the script of Funny Cow in 2013. And the script, by turns brutal, cruel, funny, poetic and emotional, seemed to have a dramatic honesty that was as unusual as it was original. Tony Pitts is a singular talent not boxed in by the traditional social realism of working class voices. Adrian Shergold's vision chimed with Tony Pitt's script, and when eOne offered to distribute for the UK, the film began to be pieced together. Production started on January 9th 2017 in Leeds and Funny Cow is Mark's debut film as a producer.
Release Date: July 26th, 2018