Film Review: Made In Dagenham

Made in Dagenham is a heartfelt, inspiring account of a group of female factory workers’ efforts to achieve equal pay rights.

Director Nigel Coles’ dramatisation of the 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant, provides both laugh-out-loud and punch the air moments in equal measure.

The film introduces an amiable array of earthy, working class characters set during a time when the waft of nicotine permeated pubs and factories and a range of goods were produced on these shores.

The story gains momentum after factory boss (Bob Hoskins) invites friendly, unassuming labourer Rita O’ Grady (Sally Hawkins) to a meeting with the bosses of the plant. After it is claimed that the nature of the women’s work is unskilled (and therefore ruling out a pay increase), Rita decides to challenge this discriminatory ruling and quickly rouses support from her feisty colleagues and a motion is agreed in favour of strike action in order to redress this gender imbalance.

A media frenzy soon develops as an increasingly self-confident Rita and her colourful band of followers take their cause to union bosses, and eventually, to Parliament.

However, the journey is fraught with a number of trials and tribulations which threaten to sidetrack the workers’ mission including the illness of a spouse, the modelling dreams of one of the younger workers, and the ineptitude of Rita’s likeable husband (Daniel Mays) who is forced to support himself and the couple’s two children during our protagonist’s absence.

As the women advance ever forward their cause receives a timely boost with the intervention of secretary of state Barbara Castle (brilliantly portrayed by Miranda Richardson). Deft and amusing in her dealings with her bumbling aides as well as with Prime Minister Harold Wilson (John Sessions), Mrs Castle is not a woman to suffer fools.

Rita and friends meet with Mrs Castle and courageously raise the stakes. The rest, quite literally, is history.

By no means is Made in Dagenham cutting edge cinema, nor is it’s theme particularly original (there are definite shades of Cole’s 2003 film Calendar Girls here). Yet it is a heart-warming and witty film which wears its heart on its sleeve and is filled with endearing characters whose fate I cared much for.

Rita’s character is arguably the most engaging. The change in her is visible – from timid, ordinary working mother to a vociferous leader of women – and this inner transformation ultimately inspires all who surround her (including her incredulous looking husband, her colleagues, and, most significantly, the wife of one of the bosses of the plant).

Sally Hawkins is excellent as Rita and her portrayal (following on from her star turn in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky) solidifies her credentials in the Brit flick lead actress stakes. Rising stars Jaime Winstone and Rosemund Pike both shine in their respective roles, while veteran Bob Hoskins delivers a solid, workmanlike performance.

Above all, I enjoyed Made in Dagenham for its absence of cynicism. In these days of voter apathy and low electoral turn-outs, a story about a group of 187 ordinary women challenging unjust, outdated policy and winning must be worthy of commendation and should give today’s generation (be they men or women) much to ponder.

The film’s title tells you all you need to know. Made in Dagenham has dealt another shot in the arm for British cinema.

Director: Nigel Cole

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson

Runtime: 113 mins

Cert 15

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