Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham

2010, R, 113 min. Directed by Nigel Cole. Starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Andrea Riseborough, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Jaime Winstone, Daniel Mays, Kenneth Cranham, Rupert Graves, Richard Schiff.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 7, 2011

A residential/industrial suburb of London, Dagenham is the location of a Ford Motor Company assembly plant where the female sewing machinists led a historic labor strike for equal pay in 1968. Made in Dagenham is a dramatization of that event, which paved the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, making equal pay the law of the land. That achievement was something to celebrate, indeed, and Made in Dagenham offers a vibrant reimagining of these events. The women strikers in the film are all composites, however, and that’s where this movie gets into trouble. It’s as though screenwriter William Ivory pored over his female-archetypes manual and took one from every category. (Director Cole’s most successful film, Calendar Girls, used a not unsimilar approach.) At the center of Ivory’s story is Rita O’Grady (Hawkins), a spunky wife, mother, and worker who roils at injustice (as we learn early in the film when she defends her son against a bullying schoolteacher). Shop steward Connie (James) is sympathetic to the women’s anger when they are informed that their work grade was to be lowered, yet she’s too preoccupied to lead a strike because, as the persevering Mrs. Miniver type, she’s too worn out keeping hearth and home together ever since her husband returned from World War II a shell-shocked mess. Encouraged by Albert Passingham (Hoskins), a union rep who is curiously the only character that is not a composite, Rita rises to a leadership position. Things continue predictably for a while. Rita’s husband, Eddie (Mays), turns from supportive to petulant once his shirts go unwashed and his wife’s face is on every television screen in England. A striker who harbors modeling ambitions uses the notoriety to further her personal ambitions. Passingham talks lovingly of his inspiration, his mother, who worked while raising a gaggle of kids as a single parent. The women are startled to eventually discover that the dominant male leadership of their union is opposed to their cause. Also to their surprise, they find support from an unexpected corner: Barbara Castle (Richardson), the secretary of state for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson's Labour government. Describing herself as a “fiery redhead” (another archetypal cliché), Richardson as Castle nearly steals the whole show in her climactic scenes. Hawkins, who made such a strong impression in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky, is more modulated here as she turns from a birdlike creature to a firebrand. She has the look of a young Rita Tushingham, which is somehow appropriate for this loving Sixties time capsule. From its music to its Mary Quant hot pants and miniskirts, Made in Dagenham does a good job of capturing the period. But too often it’s simply put in service to the obvious, as heard in those uplifting choruses of “You Can Get It If You Really Want.”

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More Nigel Cole Films
A Lot Like Love
This Ashton Kutcher/Amanda Peet romance film is a lot like mediocrity.

Marrit Ingman, April 22, 2005

Calendar Girls
Middle-aged British women bare all for charity.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Jan. 2, 2004

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
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Made in Dagenham, Nigel Cole, Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Andrea Riseborough, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Jaime Winstone, Daniel Mays, Kenneth Cranham, Rupert Graves, Richard Schiff

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