Sunday, August 14, 2011

Made in Dagenham review

Made in Dagenham (2010) is a film about the Dagenham, England strike of 1968. For those unfamiliar with the history of the strike, at the time, Ford Motors was the largest employer in England. The women at the Dagenham factory were sewing machinists (they pieced together the leather for the car seats mostly), and were classified by the union as unskilled workers, which meant that they were paid significantly less than men who did similar work--those men were classified as "semi-skilled" and ranked in a higher class of pay. The women were also paid less than the men in their same category, making even less than the janitors. They took their demands of a higher skill rating to the union and threatened strike if they were not given it. The union refused to take them seriously, so the 187 women walked out. And then women in other factories joined them. Eventually it shut Ford factories around England down completely, because they couldn't make the cars without the seats. The union at first did not support them, and they tried all sorts of tactics to undermine them and get them back to work. Eventually they came around and threw their support behind the women. After three weeks of striking, Barbara Castle, then Secretary of State for Employment and so far the only woman to have held the title First Secretary of State in Great Britain, met with the women to work out a solution--they were awarded 92% of the same pay as the men doing the same job (which was the most Ford would give at the time) and it also ended up leading to the passage of the Great Britain's Fair Pay Act in 1970, as well as Ford worldwide increasing their pay of their women workers.

The real Dagenham strikers

The movie is mostly about Rita O'Grady, who is a composite of a few of the leaders of the strike, played by Sally Hawkins. Miranda Richardson plays Barbara Castle, Bob Hoskins is the manager over the women and one of the few men in the factory who supports them (he states his reasons, saying that he was raised by a single mother, who worked a factory where she was paid half what the men were working her same position, and they had a hard struggle making ends meet and how wrong that was). The movie is very good, the acting solid--I haven't cared for Sally Hawkins in the few other movies I've seen with her, but I did enjoy her in this. The film does try balance being a kind of feel good movie and with some of the more sobering aspects--husbands/co-workers who may not have supported them, money issues and their families going without (although the union didn't support their decision, they did provide a very very small stipend to them while on strike, but not really enough to get by on), general sexism/misogyny, and a suicide. Sometimes that light/dark balance works, and sometimes it doesn't. Additionally, it doesn't delve enough into the characters' personalities or home lives or whatever, so you don't really get to know them all that well. However, despite the drawbacks, I think it is still a very good film, and worth seeing for the historical significance.
Comments on several film websites give the usual tedious complaint made any time there is a feminist film, that the men are one-dimensional and all villains (And yet, they don't seem to have a problem with women in "men's" films being one-dimensional and generally there just to provide sex or to make the guy's life miserable in some way. Go figure.). But that complaint is unwarranted here--yes there are men who don't support the women, notably the leader of their union and the Ford executives. But I would say out of those 4 men, really only the union leader is the "villain," and even so, he's far from a mustache twirling dark hatted caricature. But there is also the aforementioned Bob Hoskins character, and Sally Hawkins' husband's character--who begins the strike resenting what his wife is doing and being kind of a jerk about it to having a change of heart and supporting her. And yes the male characters are less developed, but as I mentioned earlier, all of the characters are slightly underdeveloped; and the movie isn't about the men and it is pretty common that the characters who are secondary or peripheral to the main plot don't get quite as developed as the main characters.
Film is rated R for some occasional language and one very brief non-graphic sex scene.

No comments:

Post a Comment