Made In Dagenham

Made In Dagenham

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Made In Dagenham is such a comfy, middle-of-the-road film in the mold of Brassed Off, Kinky Boots and director Nigel Cole's own Calendar Girls that you can almost taste tea and a nice digestive biscuit.

But just because the film has a conservative approach to drama, it doesn't make the story at its heart any less radical and compelling. This is the tale of a small group of female workers who, essentially, changed the wage expectations of all the women who came after them - and it's told in an accessible and reassuringly crowd-pleasing way.

Copy picture

The year is 1968 and the unlikely setting is the Ford car factory in Dagenham. The town's major employer had the men working on the bodywork and engine lines, while their wives and girlfriends cut cloth and stitched together the upholstery. Inequality of pay between men and women was a given at the time, but when the motoring leviathan decide to reclassify the 187 women at the plant as non-skilled workers in order to supress their pay still further, the machinists realise it is they who are being stitched up.

Rallied by Bob Hoskin's union rep - who was raised by his mum and thinks women get a raw deal - they are encouraged to take to the picket line, where unassuming mum Rita O'Grady finds that she has a surprising aptitude for both bolstering the resolve of those around her and for taking down the management, chauvenistic union higher ups and, eventually, the Government.

Sally Hawkins, so unfairly snubbed by BAFTA for her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky, is surely guaranteed to make the shortlist, at least, next time around, while Rosamund Pike puts in yet another winning turn as the posh wife of the plant's head with a surprisingly feminist attitude. There's also excellent support from Hoskins and Geraldine James as a shop steward trying to cope with her husband's post-traumatic stress.

Touching on issues of equality that echo far beyond the confines of the workplace, this a depiction of a time period in which attitudes were shifting on a major scale and Billy Ivory's carefully crafted screenplay does much to explore the adjustments being made on the homefront as well as in people's wage packets.

The film is strongest in its scenes of female camaraderie and risque humour on the shop floor, with Cole and cinematographer John de Borman (whose excellent period work can also be seen in An Education) recreating the time in a fashion that feels believable but doesn't resort to forced gimics (as, for example, the upcoming Mr Nice). Once the action moves to the Houses of Westminster it loses a little of its early energy, although Miranda Richardson puts in such an excellent showing as Barbara Castle, she helps drive proceedings to a satisfying climax.

Old-fashioned in the best way, Made In Dagenham is sure to be a hit with virtually any audience over the age of 30. Make sure you stick around for the end credits to get a peek at the real women behind this incredible story.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2010
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True story of how women workers at Ford battled for equal pay.
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