Posted by: greercn | October 2, 2010

Made in Dagenham

History is always open to interpretation and facts can be seen in many ways. It’s a good thing I remembered my best high school history teacher saying that, or I might have been irritated by “Made in Dagenham” for its glossing of truth and amalgamating of characters.

It’s about the May 1968 strike by a group of female Ford workers who wanted the same pay men got for similar jobs. Their action led to the Equal Pay Act in 1970.  

This is a deeply likeable film with a funny and intelligent script and a great cast of mostly female British stars. Although it’s made by the same team, it isn’t the “Calendar Girls” visits the working class that you might fear it could be. Director Nigel Cole and screenwriter Billy Ivory get the flavour broadly right, but this is aimed squarely at an American audience as a feelgood experience.

You don’t see many movies that feature a divisive strike as the focus of warm humour. “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot”  come closest, but it’s truly the spirit of the American Sally Field vehicle “Norma Rae” combined with classic elements of Ealing comedy that drives this story.

How much you enjoy it will depend on how much you like Sally Hawkins. For me, the jury is out. Her bobbing up and down like a lollipop thing is contained here. Geraldine James is particularly affecting as the union leader Sally’s Rita supplants. Roger Lloyd-Pack is excellent as George, Connie’s husband.

Daniel Mays as Rita’s husband and Bob Hoskins as a union activist are the good guys among the men. Kenneth Cranham as union leader Monty, Richard Schiff as the American sent by Ford to end the strike and Rupert Graves as a Ford manager lead the bad guys.  John Sessions irks a little as Harold Wilson.

But this is yet another girl power story. You wait for one and then a bunch come along. In this, Miranda Richardson playing Barbara Castle is fun, but replaying her Queen role in Blackadder, in 1968 clothing. She fails to capture the private fragility of Castle but – hey – this is a movie, right?

Jaime Winstone, Andrea Riseborough, Rosamund Pike and a super ensemble play stereotypes, but bring gusto and great qualities to their parts.

Keeping your chin up and your upper lip stiff is probably exactly what kept the strikers positive through the bleak times. Therefore, the spirit of this film is probably closer to that of the Ford women than the endless miserable documentaries about them are.

The audience at the Stratford Picture House loved it, apart from the idiot behind me who stayed on his phone until I shamed him into switching it off – or being so quiet I no longer noticed him. My companion knew nothing of the history, but enjoyed the movie.

Ford has now downsized radically and there are 4,000 people working at Dagenham rather than the 55,000 of 1968. If you’re looking for the truth of factory life, the reduction of staff numbers at Ford, the links of this strike to feminism or the broader allegiances of 1968, you won’t find those here.

It’s a lovely rainy afternoon story that opts for the positive. I will be buying the DVD – and a couple of books on the strike.



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