Made In Dagenham Review

Can an inaccuracy derail a good story? Does a film based on a historical event need to be (somewhat) accurate? Nigel Cole’s Made In Dagenham attempts to work out a win-win solution – it compresses and summarizes the little known (outside of Britain, I suppose) 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike. The strike was distinctive for two primary reasons: the strikers were all women and the conclusion let to the embattled Equal Pay Act 1970 being put into effect in 1975. TV-bred screenwriter William Ivory must be no stranger to this kind of easy-going footnoting with little regard for real history, so Made In Dagenham plays like a lark, its few genuinely rewarding scenes resting on the laurels of the talented and easily relatable Ms. Hawkins.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think even if a film makes a complete mockery of history, as long as its entertaining and thought provoking, it has the right to be judged on its own merits. The easy-going Made In Dagenham suffers from a consistently uncomplicated plot that introduces characters seemingly solely for the purpose of singing out the praises of the female workers while damning their plight. The message is admirable and Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) an easy icon to look up to as she leads the movement while trouble at home and in the ranks persists.

Ms. Hawkins’ plays Rita as a steadfast wife and mother, a gifted and magnetic speaker, unsure of her abilities but swept up in the movement despite the toll it takes on her family life and the relationship with husband Eddie (Daniel Mays). Her eventual victory is hard-earned and involves some hardships along the way that threaten to break Rita – but suspense is hardly generated as the plot choreographs itself while fast-tracking the drama to its inevitably cheery conclusion.

The problem is the nagging and lingering doubt that many of the events in the film didn’t play out with such…well, machinations, and the screenwriter’s elegant folly. I wasn’t surprised to find that Ms. O’Grady was in fact just a stand-in, a fictionalized combination of what I suppose were a number of standout women who fought against an entrenched male-dominated hierarchy at one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies. This isn’t so much of an issue – it’s a common occurrence for many historical/biographical films (the many, yet few, wives of Ray Charles come to mind at the moment) – but in Made In Dagenham, a narrative that is all too convenient mutes the strength of the sisterly bond between the machinists.

It’s somewhat easy to dismiss these faults, accept the narrative convenience and go along for the ride and Mr. Cole (Calendar Girls) is certainly no stranger to the lively banter that defines the otherwise stifling working lives of these ladies. The supporting cast elevates the material uniformly, with Bob Hoskins as a sympathetic boss, Rosamund Pike as the freedom-seeking wife of one of the higher-ups, and especially Miranda Richardson, who appears briefly but memorably as Secretary of State Barbara Castle, another woman in a man’s world and a force to be reckoned with. A meeting between Hawkins and Richardson late in the film has a kind of energy that the first two acts need much more of.

In the end, these are criticisms that I think will be in the minority and should not persuade people to turn away from the film. Made In Dagenham has its merits, among them a great cast and an involving story despite the roadblocks the script creates in its own path. This one comes recommended.

DVD Bonus Features

A feature-length commentary by Mr. Cole is available to those interested in how the director had to fight his own battles to make this film (a female-centric period piece – sadly I’m not surprised at his difficulties). A 13-minute Making Of is standard featurette fluff that still manages to show off some of the passion that fed into the finished work. Rounding out the mix are 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes, 3 minutes of Outtakes, the film’s trailer and a collection of previews.

"Made In Dagenham" is on sale March 29, 2011 and is rated R. Directed by Nigel Cole. Written by William Ivory. Starring Bob Hoskins, Daniel Mays, Miranda Richardson, Sally Hawkins.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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