Made in Dagenham

Director: Nigel Cole
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson
Runtime: 113 mins
Rating: ****

40 years on from the passing of the Equal Pay Act, a film has been made that continues the Act’s tradition not of feminism, but of egalitarianism. Made in Dagenham is directed by Nigel Cole; with 2003’s Calendar Girls under his belt, Cole’s reputation for serious and credible films about women’s causes has already been firmly established. But serious and credible are adjectives that could be just as deservedly applied to Cole’s latest release; indeed, anyone expecting the film to be nothing more than a montage of bold and bright outfits set to an inane Swinging Sixties soundtrack will find they could not have been more mistaken.

Sally Hawkins takes the lead as Rita O’Grady, a modest yet assertive machinist at the Ford factory in Dagenham, where she heads the 1968 strikes that are to pave the way for equal pay. Hawkins carries the role of reluctant frontwoman with a fitting amount of retiring grace, even if the perpetual tearful tremor in her voice does feel a tad artificial at times. Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins provide her with reliable support; Rosamund Pike, however, is possibly the film’s true star. Having recently played the role of a glamorous domestic goddess in another Sixties-era film, 2009’s An Education, Pike’s role here could be said to fit much the same description. Despite this, the actress brings a gravitas and a subversive humour to a part that marks an utter departure from her more airheaded performance in An Education, testifying to her versatility.

One element of the film that can arguably be criticised more than any other is not the film itself, but its trailers and advertising. The official trailer appears to present a raucous comedy which will take a landmark political event and use it merely as a starting point for what will essentially be a run-of-the-mill, lighthearted chick flick. The reality, however, could not be more different: a drama rather than a comedy, the film has genuine multi-dimensional depth of plot, character and politico-historical context. More surprisingly still, in light of the trailer, it is by no means a film exclusively for – or even about – women. The lives of working class 1960s men are explored with as much sympathy and sensitivity as those of their wives.

What this shows is that despite the misleading nature of the film’s publicity, where Made in Dagenham really excels is not so much in its portrayal of burgeoning feminism as in its unbiased portrayal of every side in the dispute, an egalitarianism of scripting and direction which parallels that of the subject matter. The male roles are just as carefully cast as the female, with the Ford henchmen as subtly threatened as the female machinists are subtly threatening. The overall effect is one of balance. Private and public dilemmas, the demands of family and professional life, the vibe of the present alongside the relevance of the past – all are given equal weight and equal credence, avoiding contentious ideological territory and concentrating on the pragmatism of what Rita calls “things as they should be”.

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