Sally Hawkins saves the day in Made in Dagenham

Film of the Week: more populist than political, ‘Dagenham’ tells the story of Ford’s strikers with humour and honesty

BY Rachel Helyer-Donaldson LAST UPDATED AT 08:33 ON Fri 1 Oct 2010

The new British film Made in Dagenham tells the real-life story of a group of female machinists who, in the late Sixties, took on the Ford Motor company by striking over their conditions, jump-starting the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
 
But was Nigel Cole, the director behind the feel-good Calendar Girls, the right person to tell this story - originally entitled 'We want Sex' after a gag about a half-unfurled protest banner (see photo below)?

Earlier this month, after its world premiere at the Toronto film festival, Made in Dagenham was blasted by one reviewer as "a cartoonish take on history" and a "sorry venture".

Some of the real protestors have also accused the filmmakers of "sexing up" their story. In one scene the women strip down to their underwear when temperatures in the factory soar, but this never happened in real-life, said Gwen Davis, a 35-year-old worker in the Ford factory at the time of the strike. "We weren't allowed to strip off, and we had too much pride to do it even if we were." However she added: "It is very exaggerated, but still good."

Many critics would agree with Davis's verdict, concluding that what saves the film are the performances from a great ensemble cast. Made in Dagenham is far more populist than political but in many ways this reflects the lives of the women it portrays. Sally Hawkins plays Rita O'Grady, a shy woman who finds herself at the forefront of a mass walkout over pay conditions and takes the fight to Whitehall.

In fact, Hawkins's stand-out performance has already prompted talk of an Oscar nomination. Both the Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times have noted that the British actress - who last year won a Golden Globe for her role in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky - could repeat Sally Field's 1979 triumph when she won an Oscar for playing a reluctant union activist in Norma Rae.

Classy supporting performances include Miranda Richardson as Labour secretary of state Barbara Castle, Bob Hoskins as a union rep, Rosamund Pike as the boss's wife who defects to the cause and Andrea Riseborough, Geraldine James and Jaime Winstone as a gutsy trio of strikers.

Made in Dagenham is on general release from Friday October 1.

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

Xan Brooks, the Guardian: "It's uncomplicated fare, overly spiced with 60s cliches, right down to the louche fashion photographer who lies on his back to snap his pics. But the film is also robust, amiable and so warm-hearted you'd be a churl to take against it." (3/5 stars)

 

Dave Calhoun, Time Out: "It's not exactly 'Carry On Cortina', but when an early scene gives us a room full of workers stripping down to their bras to combat the heat, and Bob Hoskins enters the shopfloor covering his eyes in mock shame, you half expect to see Bernard Bresslaw pinching Hattie Jacques's bottom. But don't be put off: mostly, the film sticks with the story at its heart." (4/5 stars)

Kaleem Aftab, the Independent: "The letdown of the movie is that the hardships on the picket line are underplayed by the need to keep a jolly tone. Nonetheless, as Cole showed in Calendar Girls, his strength lies in highlighting the domestic drama behind the headlines…[where] we see real adversity." (3/5 stars)

 

Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter: "Screenwriter William Ivory gives just enough back story to provide heft for the characters, and Cole draws sprightly performances from the cast without making the women into caricatures." · 

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