Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

Real life fights for equality – racial, sexual, political – almost always make for stirring cinema, sometimes even truly powerful experiences. Whether Erin Brockovich taking on corporate America on behalf of the underdog or Harvey Milk seeking gay equality, the plight of one person to right the social wrongs is inherently dramatic.

Made In Dagenham, which leans more towards Steven Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich than Gus Van Sant's Milk, and mostly because of its female protagonist Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins), may be conventional but you'll be surprised by just how affecting this very British drama is.

In 1968, Dagenham, England is home to one of the largest European factories for the Ford motor company. A recent pay regrading has seen the female workers' status, the majority of them responsible for the sewing of car seat covers and internal linings, labelled unskilled and, essentially, deemed less than that of their male counterparts.

But it's the late '60s and while bra burning may not have found its way to Dagenham just yet, sexual inequality will no longer stand. Rita becomes the ladies' reluctant leader and what begins as a one-day strike soon escalates into an ongoing work stoppage. The menfolk, at first supportive and amused in equal measure, soon begin to take umbrage at their sisters as Ford commences with full-scale lay-offs ahead of a factory closure.

Director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) handles all of this in a very British way, never going for grandstanding effect but focusing on the day-to-day trials of Rita and her colleagues and the tensions in the home; even though both man and wife work, Rita is still expected to have all the housework done and dinner on the table every night. But crusaders have little time for domestic chores, and Sally Hawkins gives a spirited performance as Rita, a quiet woman who soon discovers her voice whilst fighting for something bigger than herself.

Good, too, are Bob Hoskins as the factory's union rep who encourages Rita every step of the way, and Miranda Richardson who, as the government's minister for work relations and sympathetic to the womens' cause, manages to stay this side of scene-chewing even as she regularly chews-out the ineffectual men in her office.

Rosemund Pike is also solid but, sadly, her character is underwritten. Further development at the expense of an unnecessary subplot involving a shell shocked husband (a touch of melodrama this rousing, true life tale doesn't require) would have helped. But thankfully the producers had enough intellect to change the title from the original, We Want Sex.

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