Made in Dagenham – a movie review

Nowadays few people would argue that a woman should make the same salary as a man for the same work. Unsurprisingly things were different back in 1968 when the 187 British female employees of the Dagenham, England Ford plant walked off the job in a protest against sex-based pay discrimination, an action that, according to the film, contributed significantly to the creation of the 1970 Equal Pay Act in Britain.

This “based on a true story” movie recounts the journey of Rita O’Grady (2009 Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky) from the sewing machinist who reluctantly attends a union meeting with her union representative/best friend Connie (Geraldine James) to the strong woman who leads the months-long strike against the wishes of everyone from Ford to her own increasingly resentful husband, Eddie (a wonderful Daniel Mays).

Mays leads an impressive group of male actors in this largely-female cast. These men include the ever brilliant Bob Hoskins as the lone truly supportive man, and the prolific Rupert Graves, fresh from a stint as Inspector Lestrade in Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock, as a Ford lawyer who treats his highly educated wife as if she hasn’t a thought in her head.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the film is surprisingly upbeat, shining with bright colors and full light. The women are bowed but not broken, and there is a lot of laughter between them. And the fun of 1960s hairdos and fashions doesn’t hurt either.

While there’s no doubting the “feel-good” part of the film, nor the stand-out performances of Hawkins as an everywoman who learns to stand up for herself and others, I like to think a story “based on a true story” would be a lot more true than it is. Screenwriter William Ivory clearly doesn’t trust his source material enough to use it wholecloth, and that was all right with me until I learned that the character of Rita is so much an everywoman because she did not exist! She is an amalgamation of several women who led the strike. I don’t expect a documentary, but having connected more to her than any other character, I was very disappointed to learn she is fictitious.

However, clips of the actual strikers, both during the strike and now, are shown at the very end of the movie, and they lend much-needed credibility.

Historical accuracy aside, this is still no Norma Rae. It is more a story of women’s solidarity, as these women seem to do absolutely everything together, from socializing to living in the same buildings, completely supportive of each other’s lives, and it is these scenes I enjoyed the most.

by Heather Craig

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