Made in Dagenham
This entertaining crowd-pleaser, made in the mould of British comic dramas such as Calendar Girls (and directed by that film’s maker Nigel Cole), dramatises the true story of the industrial dispute between the female work force and the management of the Ford’s motor plant that took place in suburban Essex in 1968. It’s a relatively unknown story – which is surprising given the change in sexual equality in the workplace that it brought about – but it’s one that’s just crying out for this kind of popularist, heartfelt dramatic treatment.
The action opens in working-class Dagenham, where the 187 female employees of the fourth biggest motor company in the world and the largest plant in Europe are taking their grievance about rates of pay to their bosses. The women, whose job it is to stitch together car seat upholstery, are unhappy about having been reclassified as ‘unskilled labour’, a tactic they are disgusted to learn is simply an excuse to pay them a fraction of what their 40,000 male counterparts earn. When their union and the management fail to negotiate a settlement, the girls go on strike.
As scripted by first-timer Billy Ivory and directed by Cole, Made in Dagenham tempers the serious stuff of industrial relations and gender politics with dramatic tension and comic relief. The film manages to evoke both its grotty working-class setting and the colourful kitsch trappings of the late 1960s from mini-skirts to pop music. The cast is excellent, with a host of familiar faces playing to their strengths, among them Sally Hawkins as the bubbly spokeswoman of the female strikers, Bob Hoskins as her admiring union rep, Rosamund Pike as the sympathetic trophy wife of Rupert Graves’ sexist Ford executive, The West Wing’s Richard Schiff as Ford’s American attack dog and, in another priceless turn, Miranda Richardson as Wilson’s wry Secretary of State, Barbara Castle. And stay for the closing credits for a glimpse of the real working-class heroines.
General release, Fri 1 Oct.