Review: MADE IN DAGENHAM
When most folks think of Great Britain in the 1960’s they remember the Fab Four and Sean Connery keeping the world safe from S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and not the same social upheavals that were happening here in the states. One of the great 60’s movements, sexual equality, is the main focus of director Nigel Cole’s new docudrama MADE IN DAGENHAM. I must admit that I had never heard of this story, so I was ready for a dose of history during that swingin’ time.
The town of Dagenham was the home of one of several British based Ford automobile plants. After a few minutes of introductory newsreel footage and vintage commercials, we see the women bicycling into the factory to start their work day. The working conditions are not ideal as we see many of the women strip down to their undergarments (Caution! Possible eye injury! Bullet bras!) due to the lack of air conditioning. Not complaining, the ladies sit down to their sewing machines and produce interior upholstery for the new Fords. Their supervisor Albert (Bob Hoskins) enters, diverts his eyes, and reminds them that they must take action or they’ll be designated as unskilled laborers. At a party that evening, we get to know the women a bit more, particularly Rita (Sally Hawkins) who’s married to one of the Ford machinists, Eddie (Daniel Mays). The next morning, back at their meager apartment, Rita rushes to get their son and daughter off to school. She notices welts on the boy’s knuckles. Seems his teacher, Mr. Clark, took a cane to him for not having his protractor. When Rita confronts the teacher at school, he cruelly dismisses her.Later at work,Albert selects Rita to accompany him and elected employee rep Connie (Geraldine James) to a meeting with their Union rep and plant management. After being dismissed at the meeting, Rita throws several pieces of cloth on the table. “If you think we have no skill then turn these into a car seat!”, she states before heading back to the plant to tell her co-workers that the strike is on! Eventually their protest spreads to other factories and auto production ceases. They soon attract the attention of Ford in Detroit who send out Robert Tooley (Richard Schiff), and Employment Secretary for the Labour Government,Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson). Will the women prevail in getting equal pay?
The filmmakers do an excellent of recreating 1968 through fashions, hairstyles, and settings. My main problem with the film was making out the thick cockney accents. At times I was almost reaching for an imaginary remote so I could click on the subtitles. Hawkins makes for a plucky “Norma Rae” type heroine to root for. She gets great support from Mays when the strike puts a lot of strain on their marriage. Eddie really struggles to keep the household functioning while Rita’s on the picket line. We also see the strain at Connie’s house as she deals with her husband who’s still affected by his war experiences. Jaimie Winstone is terrific as Saudra, who’s tempted to break the strike in order to fulfill her dreams of modeling stardom. It’s always a pleasure to see Roger Rabbit’s pal Hoskins on the big screen again. His Albert beams with delight as he sees his beloved gals standing up for their rights. Richardson brings a great deal of authority to her role as Castle. I must admit that when I first saw her in her red bouffant, I thought she was playing Margaret Thatcher (maybe she worked her way up to PM!). Her scenes with her clueless young male assistants are hilarious. Schiff (of TV’s West Wing) does a great job as a 60’s businessman who might prefer having a martini with Don Draper. Rosamund Pike is memorable as a factory exec’s wife who’s sympathetic to the working gals. I know it’s an important story, but very few surprises are in this telling. The pace really drags in it’s final act. I just wished that some of the scenes had the pizazz of the opening montage. This is a middling attempt to show how working class British women were treated in those “go-go” 60’s. Be sure and stick around for the end credits and see old news reports and recent interviews with the ladies from the old Ford plant. Their stories seem more compelling that some of the characters invented for this film.