In 1968, the female workers at Dagenham’s Ford factory in the UK went on strike in protest of what they perceived to be sexual discrimination. Rita O’Grady led nearly two hundred women to protest their primitive working conditions and their long and arduous hours. But the straw that broke the camel’s back – and turned a bunch of ordinary working ladies into passionate advocates for equal pay – was Ford’s decision to classify them as unskilled workers.
Nigel Cole, whose Calendar Girls had a brash, populist touch, has dramatized this incident in British labour history and turned it into a vibrant, uplifting story about a group of working stiffs who happen to be women. Rita (Sally Hawkins, also starring in Mike Leigh’s Another Year) is rather meek and mild-mannered, and primarily sees herself as a wife and a mother. She and her fellow workers manage to keep their spirits high through good-natured banter and a wonderful sense of camaraderie. One day, she is persuaded by her union rep (Bob Hoskins) to attend a meeting with the local shop steward and Ford’s head of Industrial Relations. Asked to meekly nod and smile, Rita is amazed to discover that she has a voice, and a rather strong one at that, when her blood boils at what she hears in the meeting. Outraged at the lack of respect shown to her and her co-workers, she sets out to find justice.
Intercut with documentary footage of the Dagenham factory, the strike and its resolution – which involved Rita and her friends meeting with Minister of Labour, Barbara Castle – Cole and his spirited cast take us into the hearts and minds of these resolute women, who begin to realize that David actually stands a chance against Goliath. The inspirational story of a group of women who challenge a corrupt and unjust system, Made in Dagenham is a delightful mix of female banter, male bluster and poker-faced negotiation. –TIFF
Title: Made in Dagenham
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Director: Nigel Cole
Writer: William Ivory