Funny Cow (Cert 15, 102 mins, Entertainment One, Drama/Comedy/Romance, available from August 13 on Amazon Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services, available from August 27 on DVD £19.99)

Starring: Maxine Peake, Alun Armstrong, Tony Pitts, Paddy Considine, Stephen Graham, Macy Shackleton.

As a child, the nameless heroine (Macy Shackleton) suffers terribly at the hands of her abusive father (Stephen Graham) and she seeks refuge in the alleyways of Rotherham.

History is destined to repeat itself when, as a young woman (now played by Maxine Peake), she falls in love with Bob (Tony Pitts).

He exerts control over her and isn't shy about using his fists when she dares to speak out of turn.

During a visit to a working men's club, the abused spouse witnesses a poorly received set from veteran comedian Lenny (Alun Armstrong) and she is excited by the prospect of taking to the stage herself.

Adopting the stage name Funny Cow, the battered wife taps into her troubled past to turn her tears into laughter and prove that women can be just as funny as men.

Kind-hearted bookshop owner Angus (Paddy Considine) shows her the affection she has always craved but jealous husband Bob won't let his terrified wife go without a bruising fight.

Funny Cow is a gritty drama set in 1970s and 1980s working men's clubs in the north of England, which packs more punches than punchlines.

Peake delivers a fearless performance, which leaves scant room for pity as her cigarette-puffing heroine faces one sexist heckler head-on in a grim search for self-respect.

Director Adrian Shergold captures the alcohol-soaked milieu with assurance but he's on less solid ground with the romance between Peake and Considine's man of culture. In that respect, the joke seems to be on us.

Rating: ***