Made in Dagenham
Directed by Nigel Cole
Starring Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins, Jaime Winstone
“Made in Dagenham” tells the admirable true story of the 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike, in which women workers demanding equal pay walked off their jobs at the Ford assembly plant in Dagenham, a London suburb.
By any standard, the job action was a landmark event, helping spur the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the eventual institution of fair wages for men and women in the U.K. It’s been dramatized quite serviceably by filmmaker Nigel Cole in a movie infused with just-so period detail, a healthy dose of feminist rah-rah spirit and an appealing performance from its excellent, underrated star Sally Hawkins.
Yet serviceable is, sadly, the perfect description for this depiction of the strike efforts organized by Rita O’Grady (Hawkins). The movie gets the surface details right, but never gets under the skin of its characters, failing to viscerally evoke the essence of their struggle.
Instead, Cole keeps things lodged firmly to the service, slavishly adhering to the rhythms of standard underdog cinema. Earnest teary speeches, swelling inspirational moments and quirky ’60s iconography abound, as does a lighthearted, spirited tone that trivializes the severity of the threats these women faced.
“Made in Dagenham” is less its own unique beast than a lesser, stagier version of “Norma Rae.” The film’s broad, theatrical sensibility ultimately does a disservice to the heroic Dagenham women.