As part of the Special Screenings section of the 2010 AFI FEST, Made In Dagenham held the promise of a rousing tribute to the women of Dagenham, England, who in 1968 went on strike against Ford Motor Company to demand equal pay to the men employed at the factory. This Norma Rae type film ended up being a practically disgraceful representation of this proud moment in women’s history.
The Ford Motor Company made Dagenham an industry town. Dependent on the work in the factory the citizens of Dagenham lived and worked under the control of Ford. The men held the “skilled” labor positions while the women were unskilled because the sewing of upholstery, and the like, was considered the lowest of all forms of work at the factory. This distinction led to the capability of Ford to pay the women far below the men in the factory and offer them little respect. As part of the Union the women have had enough of the run around with Ford, trying desperately time after time to gain their respect and increase their status as well as pay. When Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) is made the main representative for the women for the Union she is at first squeamish of her role. Not one to make a fuss about anything Rita makes the most unlikely of heroine’s. Her strong will eventually comes through when she stands amongst the women and orders the first walk-out of women workers in England’s history. This joyous and powerful event sets the stage for more excitement and exhilarating moments in this fight but the direction of the film never reaches this point.
In all of the ways Made In Dagenham should be a portrayal of women’s liberation and the fight for equal rights, as this story becomes bigger than just Ford but a complete change in the country’s laws towards female workers, it lacks the grandness and bite to pull it off. Hawkins’ Rita makes for a great character as she appears soft in the beginning and slowly finds her voice as the film progresses but the film never offers her, or any of the other ladies, a shining moment. The major obstacles the women face in this battle are all played out in a monotone fashion without any dramatic effect. There are times when something feels like it is about to get good, about to change for the better, and with hope snap you out of the coma you have fallen into from the dullness that befell the former scenes of the movie. But this moment never comes. As the film travels from the Union headquarters, to meetings with Ford, and eventually to Parliament itself it never finds the bold sentiment one expects. The lifeless direction continues throughout making this story of rebellion more rebellious for not being compelling than for the actual true-life fight it is depicting.
I for one wanted to see the women’s movement have a shining moment in Made In Dagenham. To see a movie for a new generation that will lift people’s spirits to remember how their predecessors fought for them to have the rights and freedoms they have today. Not only does this film disappoint as a narrative feature in general for the simple fact that it is bland, but also for shaming the fine women of Dagenham who stepped forward when no one else had and paved the way for equal rights for women in the United Kingdom.
Production: 1 clock
Direction: 1 clock
(UK, 2010, 113 mins, DCP)
Directed By: Nigel Cole
Screenwriter: William Ivory
Executive Producers: Christine Langan, Tim Haslam, Norman Merry, Paul White
Producers: Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen
Cinematographer: John de Borman
Editor: Michael Parker
Music: David Arnold
Production Design: Andrew McAlpine
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike
This film was screened at AFI FEST 2010 presented by AUDI. For more information about the festival please refer to its website here.