'Made in Dagenham': A story about working women, cut from familiar cloth
A review of "Made in Dagenham," a "Norma Rae"-ish tale of workers triumphing over injustice. Despite likable performances by Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins, the movie has little originality.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Made in Dagenham,' with Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike, Andrea Riseborough, Eddie Mays, Jaime Winstone. Directed by Nigel Cole, from a screenplay by William Ivory. 113 minutes. Rated R for language and brief sexuality. Harvard Exit.
A pleasant, "Norma Rae"-ish tale of workers triumphing over injustice, the fact-based "Made in Dagenham" is set in 1968 England, at a Ford factory that employs 55,000 men and 187 women. While most of the men work in a modern new facility, the women (who specialize in sewing car-seat upholstery) sit in an old, leaky building that's drafty in the winter and miserably hot in the summer. They are paid far less than the men and are categorized as "unskilled" workers. Encouraged by a union representative (Bob Hoskins), factory worker Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) timidly agrees to present the women's grievances to the union's local head (Rupert Graves) — and soon finds herself leading a strike, with the women fighting to be classified as "semi-skilled."
Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky") is one of those instantly likable performers, and her Rita has a touch of shyness combined with determination that feels very real. (Her strike announcement to her colleagues is a quiet "Everybody out" as she stands on a stool.) The rest of the cast is exemplary, particularly Hoskins' kindly Albert and Miranda Richardson as a vaguely Margaret Thatcher-like politician, whose brief tantrum directed at her aides is the movie's liveliest moment. And the '60s fashions are a kick, particularly a bright-red dress with square buttons proudly worn by Rita (she's borrowed it from a more posh friend) for a meeting in Westminster, and the tired beige raincoat Rita wears in many scenes, reminding us that this is an ultimately practical woman.
Too bad, though, that director Nigel Cole and screenwriter William Ivory telegraph every moment of the movie; there are no surprises in "Made in Dagenham," as we're told everything before it happens. We know that Rita will be chosen to represent the women before she knows it; we know that a tragedy will take place in somebody's home before it happens; we know that Rita's husband will have some troubles with her new activism but will come around. (Everyone in this movie, pretty much, gets one angry scene, and then feels better.) The real women of the Ford plant — seen briefly and tantalizing in footage played over the credits — surely could tell a more compelling story than this agreeable but overfamiliar effort; perhaps some documentarian, some day, will give them the chance.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org