Cambridge Film Festival Review: Made In Dagenham

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The Pitch: Ford Fiasco.

The Review: The true (or inspired by) story of the plucky underdogs who rise up and achieve has become a staple of British cinema over the past two decades. In everything from Brassed Off to Calendar Girls, that feeling of gritty realism that is still gritty in a faintly British, middle class way, more Richard Curtis than Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, so a movie such as Made In Dagenham comes loaded with expectations. It is almost inevitable that a story such as this, ripe for such a big screen conversion, would be made eventually, but thankfully this version comes loaded with talent and packed with quality.

It’s a simple concept: female workers at the Ford Dagenham plant, who make up a tiny proportion of the overall workforce as they supply the stitched seating and other accoutrements, feel that their low pay and lower grading in comparison to their male colleagues (most of whom are husbands who work in the main plant) are unacceptable, and spurred on by sympathetic shop steward Albert (Bob Hoskins) they begin the battle to get their rights, led by the reserved but determined Rita (Sally Hawkins). Soon their actions get the attention of the government and the female Secretary of State, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), but the question is how far will they be willing to go, or indeed will their husbands want them to go?

The script does a nice job of offsetting the familial tensions created between the two sides of the workforce with the ongoing struggles to get their case heard. Hawkins, Hoskins and Richardson are all playing the type of roles they’ve played before, but in each case bring something fresh; Hoskins has an understated cheekiness and fits well into the all female environment, Hawkins has the fearless optimism from previous roles such as Happy-Go-Lucky’s Poppy, but also handles herself well in the more heated exchanges at home with husband Eddie (Daniel Mays), and Richardson perfectly captures the bold-as-brass, no nonsense attitude of the Secretary and her unwillingness to back down, even when up against the Prime Minister (John Sessions’ slightly caricaturish Harold Wilson). The supporting cast are all excellent, especially Geraldine James as Hawkins’ right hand woman and Rosamund Pike as her unlikely ally from the middle classes.

We may think we know where the story’s headed, but there’s pain and pathos in the transition, and director Nigel Cole keeps things moving along well, never allowing the pace to sag but still finding time for the dramatic moments to breathe when the time is right. The grimness of the working conditions and the brown Sixties tones are a wonderful setting for such a story, and the whole package has just the kind of feelgood nature, but tinged with something deeper, that the best of its contemporaries has tried to capture. Hopefully British audiences haven’t tired of this kind of story yet, as Made In Dagenham proves that there’s still plenty of interesting avenues to explore in the story of the plucky Brit.

Why see it at the cinema: The Sixties design, shown off at its best on the London escapades, shines through the struggles and will capture you visually, but this is a feel good entertainment – you’ll feel better in the company of lots of others.

The Score: 8/10

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