Made in Dagenham Directed by: Nigel Cole Cast: Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: November 24, 2010 (Chicago)
PLOT: In 1968, the Ford Company was brought to a standstill when 187 women in the Dagenham machinist's section went on strike in order to fight for equal pay.
WHO'S IT FOR? Those who enjoy "inspirational" true stories, or are curious about a small-town movement for equal pay that started a whole wave of change in the workplace.
EXPECTATIONS: I wasn't too familiar with the story, but Sally Hawkins won my attention with her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky. A film that I missed at this year's previous Chicago International Film Festival, I was on board, albeit curiously.
Sally Hawkins as Rita O'Grady: Her heroism seems reluctant, as she’s not a woman who is first to speak out (she can’t even argue with her son’s abusive teacher). When she does speak, she sounds like she’s constantly trying to fight back tears, a battle she loses more often we’d expect. It’s an emotional performance without the necessary amount of audience connection to make it a great performance. Score: 6
Bob Hoskins as Albert Passingham: His most standout feature is that although he's a man in power, he actually has great respect for women - he sees them as equals. This helps make Hoskins a surprisingly bubbly presence in this movie, and one at the very core when it comes to supporting the strikers when they first make their move. He disappears once they are on their way towards equal pay, but at least he gives them (and this film) somewhat of a boost. Score: 5
Rosamund Pike as Lisa Hopkins: Pike’s character exists to be a feminist’s nightmare – an educated woman who has been brutally domesticated by her husband (who is one of Rita's superiors). She’s read about great women, but never gets the chance to be one of them. We can see the comparison between her and Rita, which is what she seems to solely exist in the story for. Score: 4
Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle: Biting back at her male co-workers as a woman very much in charge, Castle is an essential piece of the Dagenham pie. She provides both sassy humor to the movie when she rips on her bumbling male aides, and also a touch of success to the overall theme. If women can also maintain the power that Castle has, why can't they also receive equal pay for their semi-skilled work? As the Prime Minister says to her in the movie, "You're the best man in my cabinet." Score: 6
TALKING: The speeches that Hawkins' character delivers are a bit too scripted to have full inspirational impact, despite their intentions. It's hard to fully tune into a character's long diatribe when a supposedly impromptu speech reeks of rehearsal, and re-writes. Score: 5
SIGHTS: We are shown the faces of some of the real Dagenham workers during the end credits, which mixes a collection of stock footage with modern interviews. A handful of effective skyline shots are used to create the geography for which these workers live in - tall cramped apartments, with their massive workplace factories looming in the background. Score: 6
SOUNDS: A collection of toe-tapping songs from the era is used, with musical artists that range from Dusty Springfield to the Lemon Pipers to the Temptations. At times, it's like the words of these songs give Made in Dagenham its most authentic source of inspiration. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: Rita's husband complains to her about having to take care of the kids and not being able to go out for a drink with his pals. In so many words, Hawkins' character puts him (and anyone that originally sided with him) in his place. Yes, this scene is more thought-provoking than the historical conclusion.
ENDING: The gates re-open, and everyone heads back to work. But things will never be the same.
QUESTIONS: What liberties were taken with this dramatization? What characters were created?
REWATCHABILITY: Reading about the truth behind these events would be more fun than re-watching this dramatization. And perhaps more knowledge of these women and their struggles might help Made in Dagenham make more of an impact.
Equal pay is an incredible triumph for women's rights. After such a story like Made in Dagenham has played out, the audience should be fist pumping with triumphant enthusiasm, their inspirational bones touched in unique ways. This doesn’t happen with Made in Dagenham, which turns its events into a bit of a staring contest. With working women characters that hardly stand out from one another, they are easily grouped into a bland bunch. They're just trying to stand their ground against massive opposing forces. At first, it’s the Ford Company. Then, it’s their husbands. Slightly inspirational events occur, like Rita’s teary-eyed speeches, but they lack a necessary punch to accentuate importance.
It wasn’t just the roaring machines of the mill, nor the first name “Sally” that had me constantly recollecting Norma Rae, the truly triumphant Sally Field movie about a woman trying to start a union in her textile factory. Instead, it was the idea that there have indeed been less stagnant inspirational dramas that have been more successful in getting the job done properly.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10