Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham is a dramatization of a 1968 strike by women sewing machine workers in Britain. The women made seat covers for Ford Motor Company. The strike led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

When the 187 women who work at the Dagenham Ford plant learn that they’ve been re-classified a unskilled workers and that they are being paid less than male workers, they decide to go on strike. Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) becomes the leader of and spokeswoman for the strike. Their shop steward, Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins), is supportive of the strike, but his superiors in the union are hostile and they go along with it with deep reluctance. Rita and a group of the strikers eventually meet with Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), First Secretary of State in the Harold Wilson government. Castle negotiates a deal in which the women receive 92% of the wage rate that the men receive.

I liked Made in Dagenham, but I thought it could have been a better movie. First of all, it devotes way too much time to Rita’s relationship with her husband, Eddie (Daniel Mays). I would have liked it if we had learned more about the other women on strike. Also, there is a sub-plot about an older worker, Connie (Geraldine James), whose husband, a World War II veteran, commits suicide. This sets up a scene in which Rita gives a patriotic speech to justify the strike. I didn’t buy it. Also, Rita finds an unlikely ally in the wife of one of the Ford executives. I found this far-fetched. And there are also too many scenes of Barbara Castle berating her dim-witted male aides. I guess this is supposed to be comic relief, but it just isn’t funny.

Still, it’s always good to see a film that celebrates the ability of workers to change things.

Note: I’m told that this film was released in Germany under the title We Want Sex. I guess something was lost in the translation.

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