On this date in film, factory overseer Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) informs the female workers at the Ford Dagenham car plant that the board has downgraded their jobs to ‘unskilled’. They unanimously vote to take industrial action, which sets in motion the events leading to equal pay for women in Made in Dagenham (Nigel Cole, 2010).
Cole’s film, a dramatization of events from 1968, adroitly explores the sentiments and, at times, conflicting responses people had to the strike. And William Ivory’s script succeeds at making union disputes, picket lines and Ford’s crisis-talks with the women surprisingly gripping. We are positioned to feel just how much is at stake. These moments are surely aided by the cast of characters who are each clearly defined, regardless of how major or minor their roles.
It would seem straightforward to say that the film belongs to Sally Hawkins as Rita, the spokesperson for the protesters. The viewer follows her from timid, everyday seamstress to equality activist with an inner steel. Husband Eddie (Daniel Mays) later describes her as ‘a force’ when she addresses the assorted unions. However, Hawkins is ably supported by Geraldine James as the conflicted factory steward caring for her war-traumatised husband, Rosamund Pike’s stifled dutiful wife, the free-wheeling, promiscuous Brenda played by Andrea Riseborough and Miranda Richardson as Secretary of State Barbara Castle, self-proclaimed ‘fiery red-head’ whose slightest gaze sends her two assistants scurrying for cover.
It is an uplifting, jubilant film that stands alongside the likes of The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997) and Pride (Matthew Warchus, 2014) as home-grown comedies with political bite. However, as ‘feel-good’ as it is, Made in Dagenham also serves as a reminder that the work the machinist’s began continues.