Let me preface this review by saying I love, love, love this film.
Now I’ll begin.
Occasionally I hear about a film I know I want to see; no trailer necessary, no cast list required, no story need be told. Made in Dagenham is such a film.
As it happens, the cast is full of memorable faces from British TV and film, each one putting in a delectable performance.
The story style is similar to one of those gritty northern English kitchen sink dramas I’ve enjoyed since childhood. It’s because I went to the coolest school on the planet, well in Bedfordshire, well in Bedford. Our English teacher asked us to study books such as Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and Taste of Honey and then we watched the films. In these formative years, I developed a taste of these working class stories and more importantly perhaps, a longing to write. [Mr Thomas and Ms French, what have you done to me?]
Made in Dagenham would have been just as fantastic in black and white, as I recall seeing these other British classics. The only difference, as the name suggests, this modern version is based in Dagenham, Essex just to the east of London town.
All I knew of the film is that it‘s set at the Ford factory. What we learn is the place then employed something like 40,000 employees of which 187 were women and that’s who this story is about. After restructuring, the all-women machinist department are down-graded as ‘unskilled’ in order to pay them a lot less then the ‘skilled’ men.
The supervisor, Connie (Geraldine James) would ordinarily have been the leader on this campaign but she was trying her best to cope with her depressed, ex-army husband at home. The feat fell to her friend, Rita (Sally Hawkins) who surprised everyone by standing up to her own union leaders who appear just to be enjoying the trappings off union leadership rather than looking after their members’ interests.
A genius moment is when Rita turns up at her first meeting just to make up the numbers with samples in her bag. These are the pieces of material the ladies sew together in sweat shop conditions in order for the car seats to be covered. Of course the male leaders were clueless on how to do the machinists jobs, the point being; it must involve a skill and they should be paid accordingly.
Look out for the middle class mother at the school gates who much later turns out to be supporter. Watch for Miranda Richardson’s appearance as the Sectary of State; either modelled on Margaret Thatcher or Mrs Thatcher modelled herself on Barbara Castle.
Each one of the ladies brings something to the film and each has a part to play as the campaign for fair pay builds momentum all the way to Parliament via the national papers. Many times I expect characters to fold or to be less amiable but this simply is not the case. It’s true feel-good all the way.
Oddly enough, the old British films were mentioned at the Ikon Gallery talk at the weekend by Stuart Maconie. They are absolute classics that have affected a generation, daring as they do to discuss what were then taboo subjects such as abortion and alcoholism.
I have just completed an article entitled ‘Is Feminism Dead?’ about how hard women fought for equal rights in previous decades and this period in Ford’s history epitomises this. I may have to do a little re-write though.
It’s thrilling that this film is British, has some great acting talent and tells a fascinating story brilliantly. I enjoyed it even more that I could have dared to imagine.
9/10 Smile factor 9½/10