MADE IN DAGENHAM
Based on a true story. It is 1968 and the working conditions for the female sewing machinists of the Ford car manufacturing plant in Dagenham England aren’t that great. It is so hot at times that the women strip down to their bras for comfort, and they have umbrellas at hand to spring open to protect from the leaks when it starts raining outside. Not only that, they have been told that they are not categorised as skilled workers, therefore they are payed less. Enough is enough! With the advice and help of the union shop steward Albert (Bob Hoskins) the women bandy together and go out on strike – at first to demand to be categorised as skilled and then all out to be payed equal to their male counterparts.
Although an ensemble piece there is a main protagonist – Rita, and she is played wonderfully with a sense of determination by Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky). Her husband also works at the plant and they are raising two young children whilst living in the council flats next to the plant. Rita is elected to represent the ladies and take on the Ford HQ and eventually the English parliament, represented by employment secretary Barbara Castle, a fiery redhead played to the hilt by the great Miranda Richardson. This all eventually leads to the passing of law of the equal pay act in 1970. Quite an achievement and an important story to be told.
Although I enjoyed the film and was thoroughly entertained I did feel it was a little soft around the edges. It is directed by Nigel Cole who was responsible for another true life female empowerment film – “Calender Girls” which might explain a few things. Unlike the great 70’s Martin Ritt film “Norma Rae” (easy to compare) which was full of grit and determination, this film does tend to overdo the sentiment at times and does tread a tired and true path on occasion – the husband taking a backseat and having to look after the kids scenario is one example that was overdone and predictable. Aside from this there is a lot to recommend. It has an excellent cast of actors – Geraldine James and Rosamund Pike are standouts, Bob Hoskins underplays beautifully. The cinematography is of a high standard and the attention to detail in the production design (Andrew McAlpine who was responsible for last years “An Education” has the late 60’s down pat) is excellent.
After seeing the debacle of “Wild Target” a week earlier it is good to report that this particular English film fares much better. Even though the women don’t quite roar they do speak out and it is something worth hearing about.