Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier’s nobly-intentioned documentary The Moo Man seeks to uncover the economic crises facing British farmers in the current financial climate, though curiously focuses on a parochial look at its kindly farmer protagonist for too long before finally getting to the heart of the matter.
Steve Hook and his father run Hook & Son, a dairy farm outfit which sees them harvest less than 100 cows for their milk. Steve asserts that his milk is the creamiest and tastiest available, that pasteurised supermarket equivalents are missing the purity of a product that has come straight from the source of the cows.
Steve is keen to note that cows on his farm ten to live 9 or 10 years – compared to the national average of around 6 – and that’s because he is sure not to milk them to exhaustion. Though he has no illusions about the fact that he is running a business, Steve makes pains to give the animals a decent quality of life, and in the event that they become too ill to continue, he seeks to dispose of them in the most humane manner possible.
In reflecting the unassuming nature of Steve’s operation, The Moo Man is not the most focused or light-on-its-feet of documentaries; Steve’s jocular, informal chats to the camera and to his animals paint him as a potent humanist figure, though scenes of him birthing cows and herding them soon enough become rather repetitive.
It’s a shame, because at around the one-hour mark, it seems like Steve actually has something to say, about how he is forced by the greedy supermarkets to sell his milk at a loss and claim a working tax credit to compensate; he laments the idea that the traditional idea of the farm is dying. As Steve sat there running down the tragic state of British agriculture, I found myself wondering why Heathcote and Bachelier didn’t insert this speech at the start of the film; it would have made for a stirring framing device with which to give the previous hour of content far wider context (as opposed to in retrospect).
Ultimately, though, even this is not the biggest blow to Steve, but instead the realisation that his most beloved cow, Ida, the so-called Queen of the Herd, has become gravely ill and may not be around for much longer. Steve’s bond with the animals, specifically Ida, proves unexpectedly touching, and by film’s end, he is recognised as a figure of not just great sympathy, but grand mirth and warmth. It’s just a shame that the film takes so long arriving at these points, something which more judicious editing could have remedied.
Though not without its stirring moments, this documentary takes far too long to make what is admittedly a pretty important point about British agricultrure.
The Moo Man premieres at Sundance London on April 25th.
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