2011-01-13 / Dining & Entertainment

“Made in Dagenham”

Directed by: Nigel Cole

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Daniel Mays, Miranda Richardson

Rated: R (for adult language)

Running time: 112 minutes

Best suited for: Women and the people who love them

Least suited for: Capitalists and the people who love them

In 1968, a small contingency of female employees at Ford’s Dagenham, England, assembly plant walked out on strike, protesting the huge discrepancies in their pay and that of male employees and decrying sexual discrimination.

The protest, which included a complete production standstill at the Dagenham Ford plant, lasted less than a month and, when the smoke had cleared, the women were offered large pay increases and promised equal pay in the near future.

Britain’s Equal Pay Act of 1970 was enacted less than two years later. In Britain, the Dagenham walkout is still considered a pretty big deal. And come to think of it, in America there is still no such federal assurance of equal pay. Interesting, huh?

“Made in Dagenham” is a dramatization of the walkout led primarily by Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), a workingclass wife and mother seemingly thrust into the leadership role, like it or not.

Yeah, “Made in Dagenham” is a little like “Norma Rae”— and a bit like “Mad Men” too— Ford’s British executives are baffled at the women’s request for equal pay and stunned when they walk off the job when their request is ignored.

Sally Hawkins does a nice job as the almost invisibly ordinary Rita; she rarely raises her voice, rarely argues or threatens, more or less caught up in the reactions of her company, her union and, eventually, her government as the strike spreads. She’s equally perplexed by the public’s reactions —both negative and positive—that swiftly form around her plight.

I’m not even sure I’d call “ Made in Dagenham” good drama, but it is interesting history.

Made by BBC Films, this TV-quality tale lacks polish and stylistic intent. It’s a simple, bare-bones story of the strike and several of its key players. Bob Hoskins (of “Roger Rabbit” fame) plays Albert Passingham—you simply can’t make up names like this— a sympathetic shop foreman who goads Rita to take the strike to its limit, even when failure seems imminent.

Despite its uncomplicated telling, the film’s heart is in the right place, and even without any obvious bells and whistles one finds a sympathetic attachment at play. Yeah, these people are real and they feel real, and despite the lack of mesmerizing plot structure, one gets caught up in the simple honesty of these working- class women compelled to ask for nothing more than a little respect.

My biggest complaint here is the sound quality—inadequate and tinny at times, and the cockney accents sometimes border on the unintelligible. (The language barrier seems to lessen as the film proceeds. But really, who in this country has bothered to learn the complexities of English? I recommend subtitles.)

Overall, however, this sweet and unassuming little film pulls its weight.

And the premise is quite valid. Equality? One might even pause to wonder, driving home from the theater, okay, so why not here?

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