A few months ago, Time Magazine released an article titled Young, Single, Childless Women Earn More Than Men, which illustrated that single women today are earning more than their single male counterparts across the board, creating a concept known as the reverse gender gap. However, what we, as people, often take for granted, is that the opposite was true not too long ago regarding the earning potential of men and women. Without the help of a group of female machinists, this unexpected occurrence likely would have never happened. The lives of which are explored in Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham. Inspired by a true story, the film recounts the event in which a group of women sewing-machinists from the Ford Dagenham factory went on strike over pay back in 1968. The outcome of which resulted not only in the creation of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, an act that enforced equal pay among men and women, but also became an important moment in the women’s movement.
Despite the subject matter of sexism and discrimination, the film opens in unassuming fashion, as the female workers begin a typical day at work. The year is 1968. The setting, Dagenham, England, home to the largest Ford factory in Europe. Arriving to the Ford factory on their bicycles, we open to the female machinists entering the factory and sitting down at their respective sewing stations. It is here that we, as the audience, are treated to the colorful ensemble of female characters, including inconspicuous Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), oblivious to the role that will soon be thrust upon her. Though things seem to be great at the factory as the women are seen cutting up with one another, union steward Albert’ s (Bob Hoskins) sudden presence states otherwise as we discover that our female machinists are currently in the midst of a dispute with Ford Headquarters (HQ) over their skill grade, a grading which drastically affects the pay they receive versus the pay received by their male counterparts. Therefore Albert convinces the workers to go on a one day strike. Though this initial strike isn’t very effective, it garners enough attention for management to finally concede and meet with Albert over the issue. Intending to increase the likelihood of the meeting working out in the female workers’ favor, Albert requests that two of the female workers to go with him, as factory representatives, to meet with management.
Much to her surprise, Rita, is chosen by her fellow machinists, to attend the meeting as one of their representatives along with Albert and factory veteran, Connie (Geraldine James). Once at the meeting, Albert and co. are joined by union representative, Monty (Kenneth Cranham), to resolve the dispute with management. However, it doesn’t take long for Albert and the two workers to realize that Monty has no intention of fighting on their behalf, but instead intends to sell them out. Eventually though, to the surprise of everyone present at the meeting, Rita speaks up about the issue, discussing how their skill grade should be fixed, seeing that their job undeniably requires skill. Clearly not accustomed to a woman standing up to them (it is the 60s after all), management is left dumbfounded as the Albert, Rita, and company leave. Upon returning to the factory, Rita now realizing that the problem will never be resolved, Rita speaks to her co-workers about their right to equal pay as women and encourages them to leave the factory; thus sparking the strike. As the strike becomes more public, news not only reaches an unhappy Ford HQ but also with Parliament, who themselves become sharply divided over the subject. While Prime Minister Harold Wilson (John Sessions) is concerned with the economic repercussions of upsetting Ford and losing the money it brings to the economy, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), the Employment Secretary of State, in spite of pressure from Wilson, gradually finds herself laboring for their cause.
Now at the center of a media firestorm as the female machinists’ leader, Rita encounters new challenges as she, along with her fellow co-workers, diligently fight for equal pay. The Ford Company, unwilling to concede to Rita and her machinists’ demands, are forced to release the men working at the Dagenham factory, which immediately creates conflict not only between the women and men working there, but also on a more personal level, affecting Rita’s relationship with her husband, Eddie (Daniel Mays), who loses his job at the factory. Nevertheless, despite these hardships which our machinist face, the film is still inspired by a true story after all, so as well know the women eventually do succeed. In this case, with the help Barbara Castle, whose involvement leads to the passage of Britain’s 1970 Equal Pay Act. An act whose passage causes a ripple effect in other parts of the world in regards to equal pay between men and women.
Going into the film Made in Dagenham, I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much at all. The reasoning behind this initial stance is due to the simple fact that this film is based upon a true story. Though I wasn’t familiar with the actual story, I figured that it wouldn’t matter because the story would most likely have what I like to call the “inspired-by-a true-story” plot structure. A person or group of people is/are established as an underdog, they must overcome some insurmountable odds, and they succeed, THE END. Which is not to say that this film doesn’t fall in line with some of these same conceits, it does, but the film’s saving grace is the film’s tone and its performances.
Often times other films, inspired by true events, get bogged down by the weight of the subject matter that they’re tackling, Nigel Cole instead infuses this film with a great deal of humor and lightness, which is a welcome change from other truth-inspired films that are typically full of dread and are consequently quite depressing. Though the film again tackles the subject of sex discrimination, Cole succeeds in getting the feminist message of equality across without jamming it down your throat, a tactful feature missing in other truth-inspired films these days which seem to use the heavy-handed approach with their respective messages. In regards to the performances, Sally Hawkins crafts a great performance at Rita, an ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Miranda Richardson is also quite entertaining as the saucy, pull-no-punches Barbara Castle. Rounding out the supporting performances, the other machinists, or Rita’s sidekicks, are relatively good as well as they each are afforded their moments to shine. Overall, Made in Dagenham, is a great film, whose poignant and relevant message of sex equality is far from updated, especially in the face of today’s political landscape as the subject of equal pay continues to be hot topic as the Paycheck Fairness Act struggles to get passed.
FINAL GRADE: A
TRR Movie Revue by Brandon Troy