Funny Cow isn’t really about comedy. Laughter is the prism through which this bleak fable spins a tale of escape and identity. To make the story of the titular, unnamed ‘Funny Cow’, about the rise of a comedy superstar would be to miss the point. Adrian Shergold’s movie is a strangely oblique, fourth wall breaking self-biography, dominated by the immense talent of Maxine Peake.
I won’t be the first person to say this, but I would go on record to suggest Peake might well be the finest British actress of her generation working today. It is rare to find an actress with the kind of extraordinary range she employs as Funny Cow, an incredibly scattershot and difficult to pin down role as written by Tony Pitts (who also plays her vile, abusive husband Bob). By turns, Peake has to be downtrodden, attractive, quirky, demure, flirtatious and more than a little mentally scarred by decades of abuse, and she manages it with aplomb. Shergold understands the picture lives and dies on the actress in every frame, who holds the central role, and you genuinely cannot imagine anyone embodying Funny Cow as well as Peake. She is magnetic, as she almost always is.
Intentionally moving away from many of the familiar tropes of the modern zombie movie, The Girl With All the Gifts makes its own statement as a horror picture all about children, nature and the dehumanisation of humanity.
Unusually for the production of a film based on source material, the book director Colm McCarthy adapts his movie from was written in tandem by novelist M.R. Carey, who also penned the screenplay to his adaptation. These circumstances allow for the picture to not only remain very faithful to the source material but have the fresh confidence to adapt and chart its own course, with the full involvement of the creative mind behind the project. How often do adaptations fall short because they miss the point or stray too far from the book? The Girl With All the Gifts is quite the opposite, and hits as a result.
What strikes you immediately about McCarthy’s film is how it treats the wider situation the world finds itself in. If you know the basic elements of the story going in, you know Britain at least has been overcome by a fungus strain of virus, which can infect humans via blood or fluid transmission, and turns them instantaneously into ‘hungries’; zombies, effectively, monstrous creatures who devour anything in their path and can move at speed. Only pockets of humans appear to be left, including the military officers inside the countryside British base where Carey’s story begins.