"Challenging", "uncomfortable", "offensive" were just some of the adjectives gleaned from reviews. I found it barely any of those things - and not helped either by one particular unfortunate miscasting.
Maxine Peake plays a working-class woman in early middle age who, since a child, yearned to be accepted as a stand-up comedienne (or should one refer to her simply as a 'comedian' these days? I can't keep up!) - despite being locked into a sour, childless marriage with a violently abusive husband. It's now the 1970s in northern England (Rotherham, in fact), and she notices an ad in the local paper announcing forthcoming auditions for an act to take the stage in a neighouring working-mans' club (not too big). She secretly snips out the announcement, deciding to give it a go, Of course, this is an era when female comedians are unheard of because women "just aren't funny"(!) - but she's determined to prove that she can raise laughs every bit as much as the men. Before the auditions, her husband finds out what she means to do and warns her that if she goes he'll break her nose!
Meanwhile, while browsing in a local bookshop, she's noticed by the owner (the marvellous, and usually reliable, Paddy Considine) their mutual attraction being immediate, a date following and a romance develops. Considine, in his considerable career to date, has played a wide range of roles, from frighteningly nasty to credibly sympathetic, sensitive and moving - but here, as a cultured intellectual (unmarried) I think his casting has, unfortunately, misfired. Her down-to-earthiness (even philistinism) plays against his own character's refined tastes, though she tolerates it to keep in with him, accompanying him to a cinema showing of that classic 1956 French short 'Le Ballon Rouge' (with which many of my generation will be familiar) - but she finally losing patience when he drags her along to see live Shakespeare. (An actual red balloon represents a mini-motif in this film). I think this is the first time I've seen Considine in a romantic role.
Also in the cast is Alun Armstrong as an ageing, yet still aspiring, amateur comedian down on his luck (if he's ever experienced any, that is) still trying to wow the locals but getting nothing but mocks and jeers for his pains. He tries to give some homely advice to the main character, though it's doubtful that, being the lifetime failure which he represents, it can be of much value. I thought this character was possibly the most affecting in the entire film.
There are also two or three cameos from well-known British, mainly TV, personalities.
I was expecting there'd be something of a controversial edge to Maxine Peake's act. In this film, if there is any at all, it's mainly confined to her final stand-up turn where she does eventually get the sought-for audience approbation - though it's still only the local crowd. I 'd thought that there'd be a trajectory right up to recognition at a national level. It doesn't go anywhere near that - and I think the film's more modest aims are to its credit.
I was barely shocked at all by the expected 'controversial' references in her stand-up routine (including using words like 'Pakis' and 'poofs') because when I was growing up these were words in just about everybody's vocabulary - yes, even my own - and would even be heard occasionally on TV. Furthermore, most British people of a generation even younger than mine will recall entire TV 'comedy' series being based on making fun of other (non-white) races - as well as mining the rich seam of queer put-downs where a comedy programme was incomplete if it didn't include a generous helping of homophobic 'humour' (Ha ha, what a hoot!)
So I think if there's any 'shock' element at all in this film it will be experienced only by those who are too young to have lived through those pre-p.c. times when such comments were so prevalent that hardly anyone batted an eyelid or, if they did, it would be dismissed as just harmless 'banter' or 'man-talk'! What was different in this film was the liberal use of four-letter words in Peake's act, words which would never have been heard on TV, at least up to the 1970s - though of course I know for a fact that in the environment of beer-swilling working-mens' clubs, even though I didn't go to any myself, such vocabulary on stage (as well as off, naturally) was as omnipresent as oxygen.
Two further things in this film I could have done without - the main character's talking to screen (us) but saying little of consequence, certainly nothing revelatory - and her meeting herself, a couple of times, as a young girl - even giving her a red balloon! - endowing the film with a portentousness that brought the whole thing down more than just a notch. Oh dear!
Maxine Peake herself presents a capable performance - though I didn't think her character's managing to laugh off the physical assaults against her were all that convincing when we, the audience, looked on horrified.
I've seen very little of director Adrien Shergold's work up to now as most of his work to date has been for TV and I'm not a great telly-watcher. His main achievement in this film for me, if lacking in memorability was, nonetheless, an important one - viz. I was never bored.................5.5.