Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Made in Dagenham (2010)

So, you know how that dang old Equal Right Amendment is constantly not being ratified, and women can still be paid less than men for doing the same job? Well that was totally also a problem in the 1960's, in England. The new film Made in Dagenham tracks how the protest of a small group of female factory workers at Ford Britain escalates into a nation-wide strike and forced work stoppage that finally gets the government talking about a gender-equal workers' wages bill. The strike is led by Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins), a dedicated wife and mother who to her own surprise finds herself speaking out and successfully rallying for the cause of her fellow female factor workers. She is met with opposition from Ford executives, self-serving union leaders, and factory employees put out of work due to the strike, but pushes on with the help of her stalwart coworkers, supportive husband (Daniel Mays) and supervisor (Bob Hoskins), and the new Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson).

I was unaware of the actual historical event before this film, so am unsure of how accurate it is, but either way Made in Dagenham is an interesting, well-made, and very well-acted movie. The colorful prints, big hair, and identical neighborhoods effortlessly settled me into 1968 small-town Britain, in a community that makes most of its living off the local Ford factory. Rita is a product of this somewhat narrow-minded, self-sustaining working-class lifestyle, expected to be both a traditional domestic wife and mother as well as a money-earner. Her gradual evolution into a groundbreaking feminist labor rights leader is natural and realistic, with Hawkins giving a fantastically down-to-earth performance. She is fascinating and real, creating a strong, sympathetic, flawed woman who is as believable as she is larger-than-life, working for what to her is the very simple, necessary cause of gender equality.

The supporting cast is excellent as well, with Bob Hoskins completely adorable as the craftily supportive boss and Rupert Graves decidedly American as pragmatic Ford president Peter Hopkins. I loved Rosamund Pike in her too-small role as a passionate historian relegated to being a pretty housewife. Her few scenes are insightful and moving, depicting the struggle many upper-class women went through (and may still experience) as a contrast to Rita's situation. The real supporting standout is Miranda Richardson, who is just fucking badass as First Secretary of State Barbara Castle, a self-styled "fiery redhead" who gets what she wants and won't stand for the incompetence and sexism flooding her office.

Made in Dagenham has a fantastic cast and a good story, but takes a while to really get going script- and pacing-wise. I appreciated the light-hearted atmosphere to break up the serious speech-making moments and provide these women with distinct and relatable personalities, but at other points the dialogue is a little too stagey or bombastic. It's an inspiring and uplifting film- and I won't say I didn't get a little teary at the end- but it knows it is and goes overboard once or twice. Nevertheless, it's a great look at this important moment in history and a superb showcase of Hawkins' considerable talents, and I enjoyed it immensely. It's in limited release now, hopefully more people will take notice!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Maybe it's just the idea of seeing Rosamund Pike in more gorgeous 60s-era outfits, but I think An Education would go well with this.

Further Reading:
Women and Hollywood review

4 comments:

  1. I love these British films that focus in on a small group of people dealing with a broader issue....
    I'll check this movie out.

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  2. I'd been on the fence about whether or not to see this one because while I've heard nothing but good things about Hawkins and Richardson, the story looked to be working from a very rigid and familiar template. Your review has definitely swayed me to give it a chance in the event that it plays in my city.

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  3. Ooh, I can't wait to see this! Loved Sally Hawkins so much in Happy Go Lucky, and while it doesn't look Mike Leigh-great, this still looks funny, entertaining, and feminist, going by your review. Now to wait for it to become available.

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  4. Andrew: Yeah it's a great way to tell a story!

    Norma: It is a fairly familiar story, but it's told well and the performances are just so good it's all worth it. I hope you get to see it!

    Andreas: That's a fair assessment! I didn't like it quite as much as Happy-Go-Lucky but it's still an entertaining movie with a female-dominated cast that isn't a crappy rom-com. (Miraculous, isn't it?)

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