ByTowne ByTowne Cinema
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1968. It's a man's world. But not for long...
There could hardly be anything more exotic and unfamiliar in mainstream commercial cinema than the story of a successful strike. But this is what screenwriter Billy Ivory and director Nigel Cole give us with this broad, primary-coloured, good-humoured comedy. Made In Dagenham is based on the Ford women car workers’ strike of 1968, in which female staff sewing seat covers for Cortinas and Zephyrs went on strike for the same wage as the men. This commanded headlines, galvanised the political debate, and indirectly led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
It stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) as Rita, confident and forthright as the ordinary working mum who finds herself elevated to the position of striker-spokeswoman, battling not merely against the bosses but the smug chaps’ club in general: employers and trade unionists getting ready to stitch up a duplicitous compromise behind her back. Miranda Richardson plays Barbara Castle, the cabinet minister not-so-secretly sympathetic to the women strikers and exasperated at the ambiguous evasions of her own boss, Harold Wilson. Richard Schiff is excellent in the small role of the American Ford executive who must come over to sort out this costly pinko mess.
The film itself is a bit sexed up. Much of the grimness and bitterness that you might associate with industrial action is gone, and some of the women themselves are surely more glamorous than was the case in real life. Jaime Winstone plays Sandra, a hot-pants-wearing striker who yearns to be a model, and Andrea Riseborough is the sexually liberated Brenda.
But there’s something else going on here. In its jaunty and insouciant way, this is actually pretty subversive: a film about strikers who are not evil, or deluded, or indeed defeated? What an idea!
Made In Dagenham goes against the bittersweet/miserablist grain. The striking women achieve inspirational self-respect and (spoiler alert!) they win their strike as well. And even given that this film is set in the period before Britain’s industrial slide, equal pay for women can hardly be blamed. These women are shown teaming up, and fighting effectively for a principle which is now a bedrock for all our workplaces; the film’s cheerful demeanour might grate, but it might be not far from the mood that the striking women thought it expedient to adopt at the time. Maybe feeling good isn’t that inappropriate.
– Xan Brooks, The Guardian
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