During a fairly dry patch for British film making, where every movie seems to want to be the Next Four Weddings
or Full Monty
, even after a decade or so of water treading, to has to be said that Made in Dagenham
doesn't bring a whole lot new to the table.
What it does do, however, is take a nearly forgotten moment in British grass roots politics, which advanced equality for women globally, and dramatize it near impeccably with a startling good cast of polished British character actors (with the emphasis on actresses).
Calendar Girls director Nigel Cole brings together the cast, which tells of the 187 women machinists at the Ford plant in 1968 Dagenham who saw their pay scale reclassified to unskilled labour. They decided to make a stand, snowballing from the pay dispute to a much larger issue
- legislation for equal pay for women nationwide, and, as the ripples of the strike action was felt in Whitehall and beyond, worldwide.
Sally Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady, the catalyst for the strike action, encouraged by sympathetic union representative Bob Hoskins and her fellow workers - at least the female ones, as sympathy drained when it became clear that the women's rights might come at the expense of male workers too. She's the impressive core of the movie, around which other established character actors revolve. There's not a duff performance to be seen from Geraldine James, Richard Schiff, Jamie Winstone, Daniel Mays, Roger Lloyd Pack, Rupert Graves, Andrea Riseborough, Rosamund Pike, Phil Cornwall and many others.
And, as the kitchen sink drama starts to spill onto a larger stage, Miranda Richardson is utterly magnificent as Barbara Castle, then Secretary of State for Employment, who was instrumental in forcing through the bill that made it illegal to have different pay rates for men and women. It's both a tribute to the firey politician and a masterful performance. And John Sessions pops up to give an uncanny and gently mocking impression of then Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
A special shout out, too, to Kenneth Cranham, who's brilliant as a self-serving and unsympathetic Union leader.
But it's Sally Hawkins' performance that's at the heart of the movie and she's fantastic as the shy factor worker who finds her voice, empowerment and courage to stand by her convictions to lead the crusade that became synonymous with equal rights.
While the movie doesn't exactly delve deeply into the politics of it all beyond the basics and plays a few archetypes instead of fully rounded characters, the decidedly feminist script still sparkles, the performances are outstanding, the period detailing and soundtrack marvelous and the direction tight. While not mold breaking, like the original striking workers were, the movie is funny and affecting but also exceptionally uplifting, if veering a little close to being too sanitized as the real figures at the heart of the action are replaced by glamorized versions (which the trailer rather shamelessly plays up to). That said, it's not anything genuinely new or unexpected, but equally as effecting and enjoyable as Calendar Girls, The Queen, Brassed Off, Billy Elliot
or The Full Monty
managed to be and that, in itself, is to be applauded.