in Dagenham (15)
Directed by Nigel Cole
Written by Billy Ivory
On general release from 1st October 2010
Made in Dagenham is a dramatization of women workers at Ford’s
Dagenham factory campaigning for equal pay to their male colleagues.
I went to see Made in Dagenham unsure of what to expect. I didn’t
know much about either the car strikes or the Equal Pay Act that followed
in 1970. I ended up enjoying the film immensely.
The use of buildings and fashion along with other cultural references
clearly signifies that this is the 1960s. It is also a film that places
women at the very centre. However, women’s and men’s spaces
are clearly coded. The factory floor belongs to the women; the boardroom
to the men. I have never been to Dagenham, and like many people whilst
visiting London have only seen wealthier areas closer to the centre. This
film however is very much working class London. A search on the internet
revealed that although once part of Essex, Dagenham is now part of the
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
What starts out as a protest over the women wishing to be classified
as semi-skilled workers ends with a campaign for equal pay. The women
were also supported by their fellow workers in Halewood, though this is
only briefly shown. Many male workers are also supportive.
Perhaps the most moving point of the film for me was the meeting between
the leader of the strike and the wife of one of the directors at Dagenham.
This takes place just outside the home of one of the women on a post war
Dagenham estate. The director’s wife, Lisa Hopkins, tells us that
although she has a first class degree in History from Cambridge, her husband
treats her like a fool. This moment and all that it implied including
crushed dreams and hopes I found highly moving. Rosamund Pike who plays
Lisa Hopkins was very good. I found all the performances convincing.
Miranda Richardson is excellent as Barbara Castle, who takes on the might
of Ford. Bob Hoskins as perhaps the only central male role was also excellent.
The relationship between the leader of the women and her husband is well
explored. Geraldine James, as always, is outstanding. However the central
role is clearly Sally Hawkins as Rita O’Grady who takes on the male
hierarchy in the unions, Ford and also Westminster.
One of the problems of the film is trying to convey the sense of such
a lengthy process within the confines of a film. Inevitably, some elements
are left out. The intertwining lives of the two women, Lisa Hopkins (this
seems to be the only status she has, i.e. defined by her relationship
to another) and the other, Rita O’Grady, could have been further
Ultimately the film reminds me of how far Labour has diverged from its
original founding principles. Would an Employment Minister meet with strike
leaders today? Perhaps. However, the film does help me to imagine (I am
only thirty-four) a time when Labour ministers and leaders did not try
so desperately to distance themselves from the trade union movement and
the wider ideology of the left. Ed Miliband, take note.
However, the film also reinvigorated my hope in the capacity of politics
to make things better for ordinary citizens. Footage at the end credits
of some of the actual women and their stories highlighted that this was
ultimately their film.