Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
MADE IN DAGENHAM
The latest cheeky British can-do comedy/drama, Made in Dagenham, depicts a real-life, groundbreaking strike for equal pay with assembly line efficiency. It slavishly follows the well-trod Erin Brockovich route with the self-realization of a working-class heroine, at least one you-go-girl moment, an outcome that’s never in doubt, and an illustrious cast spouting dialogue lifted from protest signs.
In 1968, the Ford Automobile manufacturing plant in the London suburb of Dagenham is the fourth largest factory in the world, employing 55,000 men and only 168 women assigned to sewing car-seat upholstery. Laboring in sweatshop conditions, the women, segregated from the male employees, strip to their skivvies because of the stifling heat and whip out the umbrellas to catch the rain under the leaky roof. When the women vote to negotiate with management for a reclassification from unskilled to semi-skilled labor, and thus higher pay, management perfunctory denies their demand, a decision rubber-stamped by their union. But during a coffee shop tête-à-tête between workers representative Rita O’Grady and a union official (Bob Hoskins, again in avuncular, slightly bumbling mode), he confides to her the real reason the union allows the company to pay women far less than their male counterparts—gender. This sets Rita off to call for a one-day work stoppage, which will drag out for weeks, shutting down the factory completely.
Had the screenplay zeroed in more on Rita, instead of a scattering of subplots, the film might have earned the cheers it aspires to. Rita’s son attends a posh school where a snobbish, draconian headmaster canes his students. Her best friend’s husband suffers from posttraumatic stress syndrome, while her fellow comrade-on-the-picket-line, bleach-blond Sandra (Jaime Winstone), dreams of a modeling career. Not at all last or least, a saucy brunette bombshell, Brenda (Andrea Riseborough), sleeps with apparently all of the delivery men in England. For a film encouraging the empowerment of women, Sandra and Brenda are mostly decorative, especially Sandra in hot pants. (Most of the other women are dressed in frumpy clothes that even Vera Drake would reject.) Because the focus juggles from one story line to another, the film consigns the women’s strike to the background.
It’s not obvious why her fellow workers have elevated the mousy Rita as their negotiator. She has no bearing of a natural leader. All it takes is an exchange of knowing looks from her colleagues to select her as their rep. Sally Hawkins seems to intentionally underplay her role, lowering her gumption quota from Happy-Go-Lucky several notches. She remains self-effacing and matter of fact even when she has to face down opponents in her own union. As a result, there’s never a singular, galvanizing moment, like Sally Field in Norma Rae standing on top of her work station calling for unionization. Made in Dagenham leaves it to Miranda Richardson, as the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity Barbara Castle, to seize the audience’s hearts and minds. She triumphs despite having the clunkiest dialogue. But whatever the film’s faults, they are a small concession in order to see Richardson in a role of significance. (She appears in the new Harry Potter film for literally a second.)
minor brouhaha in the British press has erupted over the film’s harsh 15
certification, banning that age and younger from seeing the film.
Similarly, it has been slapped with an R rating in the U.S.
for the same reason—the occasionally colorful language. Unfortunately,
that’s the audience most likely to find Dagenham a revelation of
some sort and less a remodeled
version of what has been better told before—here’s to you, Norma Rae.