Mad Cows

UK 1999

Reviewed by Charlotte O'Sullivan


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Maddy, a plucky Australian woman, lives in London with her baby Jack. Jack's father - spoilt aristocrat Alex - won't have anything to do with them. After a series of mischances she ends up in prison, where psychologist Dwina Phelps tricks her into signing papers so a childless couple, Pru and Sidney, can adopt Jack. Since Alex, now pursuing a political career, won't help, Maddy is forced to call on the gold-digging Gillian, her one friend in England. Maddy persuades Gillian to smuggle Jack out of prison and soon afterwards Maddy herself escapes, disguised as Phelps. She then visits Alex and finds herself smitten once more. But Alex plans to go ahead with his engagement to a rich girl. When Maddy realises this, she exposes his treachery to a group of his friends, including his mother.

Meanwhile, Gillian has created a domestic idyll for herself and Jack in Docklands. Phelps and the couple track down Alex, who agrees to help them. Having rejoined Gillian, Maddy takes Jack to the park. There, Alex distracts Maddy while the trio kidnap Jack. Gillian rescues Jack by going to the couple's house and pretending to be a child-care expert. With the help of Alex's mother, Maddy and Jack set sail back to Australia.


Mad Cows, an adaptation of Kathy Lette's novel, is full of 'wacky' characters desperate to beguile us with idiosyncratic one-liners or caddish charm. In fact, its only genuinely strange figures are the childless couple who are panting to adopt photogenic baby Jack, the protagonist Maddy's son. Yet they're considered so unimportant they don't even warrant names in the production notes' synopsis. This couple are obsessed with children but their pre-planned baby room is a hymn to the banally macabre. In a film full of bubble-gum colours, this is the one site of impenetrable shadows, occupied by a prosthetic, creepy-looking baby whose care is dictated by a computer. Over-indulgent and dysfunctional, the couple worship their computer but on hearing good news about flesh-and-blood baby Jack they allow the plastic baby to fall from its changing table on to the floor. The word "fatal" flashes on the computer screen, along with an image of the falling baby. When the mother-to-be is alerted to this 'death' she shrugs her shoulders with indifference. But the camera - as if mesmerised - returns to it again and again. This is Sugarman's haunting emphasis, not Lette's. Perhaps this is a comment on the film itself.

Until now, Sugarman has been noted for short, darkly surreal films such as Valley Girls and Anthrakitis to which Mad Cows bears a certain family resemblance. But every time things speed up or down, or the camera lurches on to its side or zooms sickeningly in and out, we're reminded that this is a two-dimensional creation. Even Anna Friel looks peculiar. Famous for her flat-chested childishness, she has obviously enhanced bosoms. Sugarman clearly likes toying with notions of the artificial. But what has she taken on here?

In being faithful to Lette's novel, Sugarman must remain true to the most conventional of narratives. And in sticking closely to the swinging-London formula - complete with upbeat pop music, endless celebrity cameos and pretty shots of the city - she must remain true to the most conventional of forms. Thus Mad Cows ends up seeming closer to such awful recent Brit flicks as Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis and Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence than to Sugarman's previous work. Shorts are often seen as a practice run for feature films. In rushing to make a normal, proper film - going for the 'real' baby, not the creepy-looking substitute - Sugarman has indeed committed a little murder. The childless couple end up with nothing. It remains to be seen whether Sugarman herself can pick up the pieces.


Frank Mannion
Aaron Simpson
Sasha Hails
Sara Sugarman
Based on the novel by Kathy Lette
Director of Photography
Pierre Aïm
John Jympson
Production Designer
Joseph Nemec III
Mark Thomas
©Flashlight (Mad Cows) Limited
Production Companies
Newmarket Capital Group, Capitol Films and Entertainment Film Distributors present a Flashlight production
Executive Producers
Sharon Harel
Jane Barclay
Chris J. Ball
William Tyrer
Liz Bunton
Associate Producers
Sara Giles
Tom Pridmore
Flashlight Films
Neda Jahanbani
Anji Oliver
Atlanta O'Shei
Loretta Greenhalgh
Seta White
Oliver Parker
Production Co-ordinator
Ruta Ozols
Location Manager
Pat Karam
Assistant Directors
Francesco Reidy
Giles Butler
Jules Powell
Script Supervisor
Marissa Cowell
Casting Director
Danielle Roffe
Camera Operator
Georges Diane
Animated Computer Baby Graphics Design
Bionic Digital
High Resolution Video to Film Services
Cinesite Digital Studios
Fido Operator:
Debbi Smith
Fido Senior Operator:
Aleks Ugarow
Fido Producer:
Claire McGrane
Art Director
David Lee
Set Decorator
Jille Azis
Storyboard Artist
Flora Daneman
Costume Designer
Trisha Biggar
Wardrobe Supervisor
Ann Maskrey
Chief Make-up Artist
Amanda Knight
Chief Hairdresser
Francesca Crowder
Roger Phillips
Flint Compositor:
Andrew White
Nick Comley
General Screen Enterprises
Music Performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Orchestra Supervisor
Stephen Kear
Music Supervisors
Tom Parkinson
Rupert Lord
Tim Binns
New State Entertainment
Music Editor
Craig Dormer
Henry's Sound Studios
Score Recording Engineer/Mixer
Paul Golding
"I Can Help" by/performed by Billy Swan; "So Young" by James Corr, Andrea Corr, Sharon Corr, Caroline Corr, performed by The Corrs; "Je t'aime moi non plus" by Serge Gainsbourg, performed by Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourg; "Rude Boy Rock" by Justin Robertson, performed by Lionrock; "Lazy Bones" by Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, performed by Juan García Esquivel; "On Days Like Yours" by Ben Parker, Jason Hazeley, performed by Ben & Jason; "Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)" by Tjinder Singh, performed by Cornershop; "Locked Up" by Rick Hudson, performed by Blair; "Countdown at 6" by Jean Jaques Perrey, Gershon Kingsley, performed by Perrey & Kingsley; "Teddy Bears Picnic" by John Braton, Jimmy Kennedy, performed by Dave Wall; "Scramble" by Marcus Oliver, performed by New Kingdom; "Left Bank Two" by W. Hill, performed by The Noveltones; "Heaven from Here" by Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers, performed by Robbie Williams; "If Everybody Looked the Same" by Cato, Eugene Record, Yancey, Finlay, Muhammed, Sareed, Taylor, performed by Groove Armada, contains a sample of "1nce Again" (The Twister Mix)" performed by Tribe Called Quest vs Aphrodite, contains a sample of "We Are Neighbors" performed by The Chi-Lites; "A Girl Like You" by/performed by Edwyn Collins; "He's the Greatest Dancer" by Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, performed by Sister Sledge; "Joy" by Cliff Jones, Nick Crowe, Nigel Hoyle, James Risebero, performed by Gay Dad; "Clean Up Woman" by Willie Clarke, Clarence Reid, performed by Betty Wright; "She's a Lady" by Paul Anka, performed by Tom Jones; "Female of the Species" by Thomas Scott, James Edwards, Andrew Parle, Francis Griffiths, performed by Space; "Good Times" by Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, performed by Chic; "Bang On!" by Alex Gifford, performed by
Propellerheads; "Bring Him Back" by Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, performed by Dusty Springfield; "Sailing" by Gavin Sutherland, performed by Rod Stewart; "Big Mistake" by Natalie Imbruglia, Mark Goldenberg, performed by Natalie Imbruglia; "My Favourite Game" by Peter Svensson, Nina Persson, performed by The Cardigans; "Say It Once" by Jon O'Mahony, James Rose, James Hearn, Michael Harwood, performed by Ultra
Sound Recordist
Ian Voigt
Re-recording Mixer
Alan Snelling
Supervising Sound Editor
Colin Chapman
Dialogue Editor
Brigitte Arnold
Loop Group:
Breffni McKenna
John Bull
Tim Block
Julia Brahms
Nicolette McKenzie
Alison Dowling
Alan Snelling
Jamie McPhee
Peter Holt
Jenny Lee-Wright
Pauline Griffiths
Ken Somerville
Stunt Co-ordinators
Marc Boyle
Paul Weston
Anna Friel
Joanna Lumley
Anna Massey
Dwina Phelps
Phyllida Law
Lady Drake
Greg Wise
John Standing
Johnny Vaguelawn
Nicholas Woodeson
Detective Slynne
Judy Cornwell
Maddy's mother
Prunella Scales
Dr Minny Stinkler
Geoffrey Robertson QC
man on Clapham omnibus
David Ryall
man outside Harrods
Mohamed Al-Fayed
Harrods doorman

Meg Mathews
Harrods shopper
Rustie Lee
Mama Joy
Badi Uzzaman
Indian shopkeeper
Neil Stuke
desk sergeant
Eddie Marsan
young constable
Hermione Noris
Wendy Phillips
prison warden
Patricia Devine
nun in prison
Jodie Kidd
Susie Bick
Sophie Dahl
Elizabeth Berrington
Shannah Laumeister
group leader
Danny Cerqueira
Paul O'Boyle
Kathy Lette
browser in Mothercare
Julius Robertson
boy in Mothercare
Ruth Lass
Mothercare assistant
Donald Birrane
hotel receptionist
Amerjit Deu
Indian man
Sophie Okonedo
Rohan McCullough
Annabel Crump
Pearse Elliott
Belfast man
Johnny Gold
party doorman
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson
Howard Jones
disck jockey
Neville Phillips
president of Soil Society
Corinne Martin
cleaning maid
John Wood
Omid Djalili
George, Greek boyfriend
Samuel Hart-Woods
George Hart-Woods
James Hart-Woods
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
8,152 feet
90 minutes 35 seconds
Dolby digital
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011