Made In Dagenham

Director    Nigel Cole
Starring    Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Andrea Riseborough, Jaime Winstone, Geraldine James, Miranda Richardson
Release    TBA (US) 1 OCT (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


25th October 2010

Call it 'faction', call it 'docudrama'... call it what you will, but cinema is currently full of dramatic recreations of meaningful moments of history (and it'll only become fuller in the run up to the Oscars). Director Nigel Cole is on home turf in this forum, after finding prominence helming Calendar Girls in 2003; like riding a bike, he shows the skills employed to direct in this genre cannot be forgotten.

The action of the film begins when car manufacturers Ford re-grade their female employees to 'unskilled labourers', downgrading their pay. When the machinists (read: women) are drawn to take union action against their employers, Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins), is given the support of her colleagues and represents them at a union meeting, catapulting her into the national press and battle with the bosses of Ford.

Hawkins ably steps into the role of O'Grady, a wife very much in the '60s sense; a great deal of comedy is derived from her husband's efforts to be domestic once her strike actions take her away from home for extended periods. Her working class character is cultivated early in the film through a confrontation with a bullying teacher at her son's school, which places her diametrically opposite to the educated Ford executives; formidable enemies to be toppled by her 'giant killing' character.

[gallery]The supporting cast do an equally sterling job, with a host of British actors wheeling out their very best 'cockerney' accents. Bob Hoskins (who else?) proves that he is more Adam and Joe caricature than ever, but playing foreman Albert Passingham, this is exactly what is demanded of him. Sheepish when confronting his shirtless female wards, strong and wily when dealing with the slippery union bosses, and able to draw tears when necessary (through an emotional, not violent stimulus), Hoskins is perfectly cast.

Miranda Richardson cameos as Government Minister Barbara Castle; despite her best efforts, though, she is just Blackadder's Queenie, shouting incompetent lackies out of her office. Roger Lloyd-Pack's performance as a mentally scarred war veteran is also great. If you lose interest in the film (unlikely), you are able to play a reverse 'Where's Wally?' game with the rest of the cast; you know the faces but can't get the context. Faces from the best of British TV abound; Daniel Mays (Hustle, Ashes to Ashes) is O'Grady's comically suffering husband; Rupert Graves (Sherlock, Single Father) as an officious Ford executive; and Andrea Riseborough (The Devil's Whore) as vegetable obtaining nympho.
On occasions the film loses focus. The decision to have Hoskins' character encourage the union action, the catalyst for change, and then give a speech about his dreams of equality, although well intended, seems clumsy, using a male to drive the action (whether historically accurate or not) in a film about the advancement of women. There is also a clunky sub-plot about the trans-class inferior status of women, centring on Rosamund Pike's educated but put-upon wife; she demonises her Ford executive husband, whilst supporting O'Grady's cause. This narrative arc feels unrealistic, is unfulfilled, unnecessary and is dealt with in other ways during the film.

Director Cole and scriptwriter William Ivory manage to inject much-needed emotion and humour into what in reality could be rather dry action; this is done without detracting from or trivialising the core message of the film. Despite its flaws, and there are a few, this is an example of populist British cinema at its very best; an ensemble character piece retelling a pivotal moment in the history of equality.

This is an important film and should be seen, but it's unfortunate that the copious expletives could not be removed from the script in order to lower its certificate and allow a younger audience to experience an historical moment.

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