CAPSULE: MADE IN DAGENHAM is a frustrating experience. It runs very parallel to Martin Ritt's NORMA RAE and deals with more momentous historical events, yet it feels like weak tea next to Ritt's film. In NORMA RAE an enraged Sally Field storms through that textile mill. You feel her rage. And you have sequences like that of her mother being deafened by the machinery. NORMA RAE actually makes you angry at the factory and its conditions, while MADE IN DAGENHAM just leaves you miffed. It is ever so much more delicate and reserved. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
MADE IN DAGENHAM is based on real and what would become historic events. It is the story of a 1968 strike for equal pay by 187 women employed the Ford auto works at Dagenham, England. But there is very little good in this film that was not done better in Martin Ritt's NORMA RAE. Plus with British diffidence it is not nearly as affecting as Ritt's film. Director Nigel Cole tells his story in an entirely too reserved manner. Ritt knew how to go for the gut. Both films are about factories going on strike. In NORMA RAE it is at least in part about conditions that deafen people and deaden lives. This film is also about the women unfairly being under- classified and later about not getting equal pay with man. That is a very real complaint, but it does not have the power of seeing Sally Fields marching through a factory shutting down machines or seeing her mother temporarily deafened by the din of the textile machines.
At the center of the strike Rita O'Grady is played by Sally Hawkins who was the (literally) irrepressible Poppy from HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. She is just one of the girls in a hot noisy room where 187 women sew together the fabric of car seats for new Ford cars. The room is so hot several of the women remove their blouses. Without losing modesty they wear only their brassieres, much to the embarrassment of union representative Albert (Bob Hoskins). Albert is a simple ineffectual man with a cockney accent. The women are irritated that they are classified "unskilled" while doing tasks for which men would be classified at least "semi-skilled." The women decide to go on a one-day strike. With a twinkle in his eye Albert chooses Hawkins to lead. Any good he can do for the women has to be approved by his boss, Monty (Kenneth Cranham), an official union leader does not want to rock the boat with a relationship with the company that is paying him well. Little do the women realize that their one-day strike would start a chain of events that would have international implications.
There are many familiar faces in the film. After HAPPY-GO-LUCKY the viewer just feels comfortable with Sally Hawkins on the screen. This may not be a good choice because she at heart does not seem as forceful as her historical counterpart had to have been. Hoskins plays a nice, unglamorous bunny-like man, perfect for the role. He is content to let other actors have the more dynamic personalities. Miranda Richardson is intense as Barbara Castle, the secretary of state for employment issues--torn on if she should keep a lid on labor unrest or be indignant at the sexism inherent in the system. Rosamund Pike plays Lisa Hopkins who formerly read history at Cambridge, but now has been unhappily reduced to a trophy wife for a Ford factory executive.
There are really two ways to teach history like the Ford Strike. One can just say this was the situation and this is what people did. Or one can go for the gut and get the audience emotionally involved and indignant. Director Nigel Cole shows us the conditions and then considers the injustice. The same story can be told with force and power the way Ritt did with NORMA RAE. Cole wants to make his women endearing. They are just the girls getting together to have fun together to the sound of several sixties popular songs. He forgets that we are not here to be nostalgic about the 60s. He should be telling us why we do not want to go back to these times with their inherent injustice. Showing how sweet they were is akin to patronizing them. I rate MADE IN DAGENHAM a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. Cockney accents may be a little difficult to make out, particularly for some older viewers.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1371155/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/made_in_dagenham/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper