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November 13, 2010

Starz Denver Film Festival 2010 - Made in Dagenham


Nigel Cole - 2010
Sony Pictures Classics 35mm film

There's a scene in Made in Dagenham where Sally Hawkins gets up in front of her co-workers to call for a strike. Maybe it's a fuzzy memory at work here, but a couple of the shots seemed to invoke another actress named Sally who led a strike of female workers, Sally Fields in Norma Rae. Any similarities are probably intentional. The film is based on a strike by 187 women who worked at the British Ford plant in 1968, a strike which effectively helped create a law regarding equal pay for women.

This is more feel-good movie than dialectic cinema, more entertainment than art, especially as there is no drama regarding the outcome. A sharper film might have been written by Peter Morgan, or directed by Ken Loach. What the film is primarily interested in exploring is the entrenchment of sexism in the workplace, both by the managerial team at Ford, both in Britain and in the U.S., and the initial lack of support given by the union that claimed to speak on behalf of all workers. As factual as the story may be, it seems to exist in a vacuum where the feminist movement is nowhere to be seen, nor is there any connection made with any of the other political activity of the day. There is a reference to the fashion revolution of the time, when Carnaby Street seemed to dictate fashion trends, with one of the younger workers, Sandra, proudly showing up wearing Mary Quant hot pants.

Where Made in Dagenham shines is in the acting. Most of the weight is carried by Sally Hawkins as Rita O'Grady, the initially reluctant strike leader, who tries to balance her commitment to her friends and co-workers, with maintaining a household with a husband, also a Ford worker, and two school age children. Bob Hoskins plays the mischievous union leader who truly supports the women, always averting his gaze when entering the factory during the hot days when the women work without shirts. It is Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle, a member of Harold Wilson's cabinet, who steals the film, with her caustic remarks. Whether dealing with dimwitted underlings or negotiating with a Ford manager who threatens to shut down the factories rather than acknowledge the strikers' demands, Richardson is so eminently entertaining, one might hope to see her in a film about the real Barbara Castle.

One might also put a contemporary reading on the film for what it does present in the ways that management views labor, and how multinational companies exert their power. The political aspects to Made in Dagenham take a back seat to easy to recognize heroines and villains. The film begins on a small wave of nostalgia with vintage television ads for British Ford cars, and concludes with some documentary footage, some of it from the actual strike, as well as filmed interviews with some of the women who participated in the strike, older, but no less spirited. The film ends with almost obligatory, end credit title song, the kind that's placed in order to get a Best Song nomination for the Oscars. What makes this song of more interest is that the lyrics are by activist singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, a former resident of Dagenham, while the song is performed by Sixties pop star Sandie Shaw, herself a former employer, as a key punch operator, at the Degenham Ford plant.

Posted by peter at November 13, 2010 06:11 AM


I just finished my first rough draft of my review of this and we seem to see about eye to eye on this one, though I think that Bob Hoskins was even more amazing than Miranda Richardson, as great as she was.

Cool about the song at the end. That completely escaped me. I was a roundtable interview with Nigel Cole and when someone asked him about the music for the film, his eyes lit up. Major music fan.

Posted by: Bob at November 13, 2010 08:00 PM