DIR: Nigel Cole • WRI: Billy Ivory • PRO: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley • DOP: John de Borman • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike, Jaime Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Richard Schiff, John Sessions, Kenneth Cranham
Made in Dagenham is the latest offering from director Nigel Cole. The story is a dramatic interpretation of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant. Here we see more than just 187 women walking out in protest against sexual discrimination. We see these women struggle for equality in every sense, from equality in their wage packets, to equality of the mind. Cole is oddly attuned to depicting female struggles and triumphs, having directed Calendar Girls and Saving Grace previously, with Made in Dagenham he again shows a gift for making something exceptional from the everyday.
1968 saw a record number of union conflicts and strike action, but nothing quite like Dagenham, in which women came into direct conflict with management, unions, husbands, etc. in order to make themselves heard. Cole does an excellent job of portraying the strife of the workers, whilst retaining enough humour to make a film which is as emotive as it is nostalgic. Costumes, music and masterful acting combine to perfectly evoke the atmosphere of the era. We learned from Calendar Girls that Cole knows how to portray ‘no nonsense’ women, and Made in Dagenham is no different.
Sally Hawkins gives an incredible performance as Rita O’Grady, a shy and well-mannered worker subjected to harsh working conditions who dramatically finds her voice in the face of adversity and leads her fellow workers in their fight. O’Grady is the most likeable of the female cast and is the stand-out performer throughout. Hawkins portrays the tension between O’Grady and her husband and co-worker beautifully, and they become some of the most powerful scenes.
Jaime Winstone gives a great performance, but her character’s feistiness seems one-dimensional and lacks the heart of other characters. Whilst her presence does move the story forward, she is ultimately more likable when being hunted by zombies in the Big Brother house. In a film which depicts the struggle of 187 women, it comes as a slight disappointment that whilst only some can be featured from necessity, few are truly fleshed out and likeable characters.
Ironically for a movie which centres on a very female struggle, Bob Hoskins steals the show somewhat in his scenes as Albert, a wise and unassuming union man who comes to support the women’s cause when he relates these young women to the hard-working women in his own life. Hoskins and Hawkins make the film infinitely more beautiful through their performances, unfortunately leaving all other characters behind.
Whilst Made in Dagenham is an enjoyable and atmospheric piece, character development suffers in its desire to include a large ensemble cast. Had the focus been on fewer characters, we may have gained more insight into them as individuals. Cole’s directorial style suits the needs of his subject matter and here we see him as an expert at avoiding the cliché pitfalls of the genre. Made in Dagenham is an emotional and nostalgic snapshot of an era that will induce as many chuckles as gasps.
Ciara Lianne O’Brien