Made in Dagenham


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Oh England, England. Weren’t you great in 1968, when the mini skirt was born, the working classes were hard-working folk with spotless kitchens, and work chums staggered home giggling across the peaceful estate after a right old knees up in the bar. Women cycled into work beaming before embarking on the drudgery of a machinist’s work at Ford Dagenham Plant, and families settled down nightly in front of the black and white tele to watch the six o clock news.

This is England, but a more sanitised version than Shane Meadows’ recent TV stiny would show us. But despite its romanticising of the working classes, Made in Dagenham is still enormously enjoyable and strangely moving.

To an extent it’s because it simplifies in an entertaining way. Character wise, there is the gobby one, the brainy one, the posh one and the tragic one; the costumes are pitch perfect and leave a vintage fan dribbling with envy in the cinema.

It also pumps the glory of the working class struggle nearly dry, with many a rousing speech and tweaking of historical fact to tug the heartstrings of the liberal audience.

Sally Hawkins’ firecracking performance tops it off, with convincing supporting roles from Daniel Mays as the cuddly but conflicted husband and Jaime Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Geraldine James, Miranda Richardson and Rosamund Pike providing the Great British Actor Back Up.

Still, it isn’t all neighbourly solidarity and singing round the old Joanna in
Dagenham. The film does a good job at highlighting the tensions of the moment, whether due to men who supported the strike in theory but resented its impact on them, or the conflicts played out in the home as men found their psychological and physical roles changing in response to an active female.

Above all it’s satisfying because it is telling the true story of how a group of pioneers fought for justice and won, tirelessly and bravely, when people threatened them with their jobs and their families and communities turned against them. 55,000 men worked at Ford’s Dagenham Plant and only 187 women. The women battled for equal pay in a fight that led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act, one of the century’s most important historical events for women.

And when they were faced with suited men in boardrooms telling them that industry would fall apart if women were paid the same as men, or male colleagues who earnestly told them equal pay wasn’t deserved because men were the breadwinners, they decided not to be fazed.

The sense that the story is nicely wrapped up pervades the end of the film, when in reality, women are still earn around 15% less than men and the rights of working people globally are constantly under threat. It’s worth remembering the words of Rosamunde Pike’s character when leaving the cinema, while still allowing the glow of hope and triumph to burn in your chest: Please keep going. Don’t give up.


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