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Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

NIGEL Cole’s Made in Dagenham recalls a lesser known, but no less remarkable, chapter in English history – namely, the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant that paved the way for legislation aimed at securing equal pay for women.

It boasts a star-studded British cast and is quietly empowering in its own kind of way, mixing humour and emotion in much the same way that Cole did with his ultra-successful Calendar Girls. But it’s not necessarily a film merely for women.

Rather, by virtue of its basis in reality, it’s an eye-opening account of a forgotten chapter in history that deservedly – if unspectacularly – shines the spotlight on an almost forgotten group of reluctant campaigners.

Sally Hawkins heads the cast as Rita, the spearhead of the campaign for equality. At first, the women of the Ford plant – who number 187 to the men’s 55,000 – threaten to strike against being re-classified as unskilled.

But rallied by Bob Hoskins’ sympathetic union member and floor manager, they battle against Ford’s top brass in a bid to secure equal pay, taking their battle to Parliament and the doors of MP Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) along the way.

En route, their fight isn’t without hardship. Many of their husbands oppose their actions, while Ford’s own management enlist the help of a ruthless company lawyer (Richard Schiff) to try and upset their camaraderie and break their spirit.

Admittedly, Cole’s film isn’t the definitive version of events. The story has been condensed, while several of the characters are composites of many women. Hawkins’ Rita, for instance, is comprised of three different women.

But it does capture the spirit of the women and the changing attitudes of the time, and is therefore certainly inspirational. It also packs a powerful emotional wallop on at least two or three occasions.

Performance-wise, it also provides a showcase for established and emerging talent, both male and female. Hawkins takes centre stage and is brilliant as Rita, combining grit with uncertainty and a slowly emerging but fierce resolve.

She perfectly encapsulates the reluctant hero… whose path to success wasn’t founded on ambition, but rather circumstance and courage.

But she’s ably supported by Daniel Mays, as the husband struggling to come to terms with his wife’s new position, Geraldine James, as a struggling colleague with personal turmoil at home, and Andrea Riseborough and Jaime Winstone, who add both glamour and sassiness to the women’s cause.

Richardson is also great value as the fiery red-headed Castle, barking orders whenever needs must, Rosamund Pike is surprisingly affecting as the well-to-do wife of a Ford boss whose own life disappointments are put to the test, and – of course – Bob Hoskins is a joy whenever on-screen as the earnest but charismatic floor manager who gives early backbone to the women’s cause.

Cole’s direction is unfussy and often leisurely paced, meandering at times when it could have benefited from a sharper pace and script (see Aaron Sorkin’s forthcoming The Social Network as an exhilarating example of recreating history).

But he does sneak up on viewers with some genuinely poignant scenes between the characters, which neatly – and belatedly – offset the early humour. His sense of time and environment is also well captured, so as to give a genuine sense of the struggles the women faced.

Hence, while Made in Dagenham takes a leisurely, even play-it-safe attitude in certain aspects of its filmmaking, it’s also a stirring, empowering film in many ways that delivers a great story and some fantastic performances in a typically British way.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 113mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 28, 2011