Inspired by a true story, Made in Dagenham
takes place in 1968 at a British Ford plant where women are, Gasp!, paid less than men for equal work despite being also represented by unions and a supposedly forward thinking Labour government and Harold Wilson.
Rita O'Grady (Brit actress Sally Hawkins) quite literally sweats her days away sewing upholstery for these Ford vehicles in a factory where the heat is so sweltering that it's not unheard of for the women to strip down to bra and panties. While the union hasn't thought twice about the lesser pay of these women, Rita is represented by an even more forward thinking union rep called Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins), whose upbringing taught him a thing or two about equal rights and who quickly catches on to and supports these women as Rita ultimately organizes a strike and catches both the union and the Labour government off-guard.
In what may very well be the most entertaining film ever produced about the subject, and I assure you that in addition to being inspiring this film is also quite entertaining, Made in Dagenham
catches fire thanks to the incredibly spirited and vibrant performance of lead Sally Hawkins, who comes out of her shell and into her own while leading the way for both British and American women in a battle that continues to this day as we're learning across the country with union rights being voted down and "equal pay" legislation being swatted into its subservient place by a GOP majority.
While Albert initiates the strike, it is Rita who really makes it a public outcry and who finally gains the support of Labor Minister Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), whose own speaking out shook up the Labour movement that had been treading lightly and not wanting to p*** off Ford. Rita also gains the unexpected support of Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike), whose marriage to a top Ford exec (Rupert Graves) gave the "equal pay" movement an inside voice.
Incredibly stirring and inspiring, Made in Dagenham
is unlikely, however, to win any new supporters to the whole idea of equal pay with its fairly paint-by-numbers storytelling from William Ivory, an interesting tidbit that such a story of female empowerment would actually be written by a man. What's the matter? Couldn't they afford a female writer?
Made in Dagenham
is made ever more spirited by the presence of those lovely late 60's tunes that signified the changing times, a spirit also captured nicely by John de Borman's camera work and William Ivory's subtle dialogue that never plays the drama to the hilt.
While the film's DVD package is a tad sparse, comprised mainly of outtakes, a commentary with director Nigel Cole and a "Making of" featurette that nicely supplement the nearly two hour film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic