12 December 2010

Review: "Made in Dagenham"

Sally Hawkins has quickly become one of my favourite actresses. I admittedly have a weakness for British women who appear in Mike Leigh films (see Brenda Blethyn and Imelda Staunton). Sally Hawkins blew me away in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and I have rediscovered her performances in Vera Drake (2004), Cassandra's Dream (2007) and her emotional scene in An Education (2009). Her newest film, Made in Dagenham, is based on real events surrounding the 1968 Ford Dagenham plant strike when women wanted equal pay. Usually I am a little turned off when a film is inspired by true events, but luckily Made in Dagenham has effervescent Sally Hawkins at its helm. She creates an empathetic and multidimensional character and gives a performance that stands above the trite and overly cliched screenplay. Nigel Cole is a competent director who does not offer any surprises, much like his previous films Saving Grace (2000) and Calendar Girls (2003). His third feature, A Lot Like Love (2005), is amongst Roger Ebert's most hated films. Like The King's Speech, Made in Dagenham succeeds because of one outstanding lead and two great supporting performances. Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins give great flair to their smaller roles. Made in Dagenham is a simple film about a group of women fighting for equality and, while it often gets lost in its own sense of morality, Sally Hawkins continues to prove she is an absolute treasure.

The female employees at Ford in Dagenham sew seat covers by hand. They often strip down to their underwear because it is so hot. The women are encouraged by Albert (Hoskins), the union steward, that they must substantiate their claim against the company by having a one-day strike. The women are in need of a new leader because Connie's (Geraldine James) husband is ill. Albert encourages Rita (Hawkins) to take her place and tells her that the real issue is pay equity. After the strike the women are given letters from management and Rita becomes so upset by the lack of respect that she proposes a full strike. One of Rita's first ideas is to include the women at Ford in Halewood to join the demonstration. While the man in administration try to downplay the issue and belittle Rita and the other women, her greatest challenge comes at home. Her husband Eddie (Daniel Mays) is also a Ford employee and he is laid off when the plant runs out of seats and is unable to build any new vehicles. Rita has to battle against her own family, Connie, who needs money to support her sick husband, and the Ford manager Peter Hopkins (Rupert Graves). The women gain so much publicity that Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), the Secretary of State, must intervene.

Part of what makes Made in Dagenham so enjoyable is how Rita's relationships are treated. There is a real honesty to her relationship with her husband even though it plays out in a very predictable manner. Rita has a huge burden. She wants to be a good wife, a loving mother and a supportive colleague all while trying to stand firm in her beliefs. My only complaint is that I was not satisfied by her friendship with Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike). The two women meet while confronting an abusive teacher but Lisa is Peter Hopkin's wife and their social background prevent them from becoming friends. I understand how Lisa sees Rita's fight as a symbol for her own equality, but I found it emotionally dissatisfying in the film. Sally Hawkins is reason enough to see Made in Dagenham. It is a decent film with a great lead performance, but if you really want to be blown away by her I will once again suggest Happy-Go-Lucky, one can never go wrong with Mike Leigh.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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