By William Wolf


Based on a true story, director Nigel Cole’s “Made in Dagenham,” scripted by William Ivory, is a rousing women’s rights story about a factory strike that caused a big stir in Britain in 1968 and led to passage of equal-pay legislation. A bravura performance is given by Sally Hawkins as Rita O’Grady. a non-political woman who rises to leadership and spurs women unionists into action. This sets the spirited tone for this drama, given its world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.

The women are fed up with sewing automobile seat covers in a run-down Ford plant in Dagenham for less money than their male counterparts. Some 187 of them are eventually primed to strike. They are viewed by union honchos as more of a nuisance than a fighting force and urged to cool it and wait a while so they won’t take the spotlight off other demands that male union leaders deem more important.

Once charged up, the women will not be shunted aside. They are aided by Bob Hoskins as Albert, a more sympathetic union representative, in contrast to Monty (Kenneth Cranham), who pressures the women to retreat. The ins and outs of the volatile situation are explored as the women opt for greater solidarity, publicity increases and the stakes grow as the strike takes ia toll on others.

Real British officials are portrayed, most notably Miranda Richardson in a colorful, strong performance as Barbara Castle, Britain’s Secretary for Employment and Productivity, who is caught between pressure by the Ford company and her desire to be on the side of the women protestors who go to London to meet with her.

The film thrives on an earthy touch rather than a preachy one, and it is easy to get caught up in the cause. An excellent cast has been assembled to play Rita’s co-workers and others who contribute to fleshing out the history-making events. The writing and direction capture the atmosphere surrounding the strike and the resulting upheaval. A Sony Pictures Classics release.


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