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Made in Dagenham

If ever there was a movie you wanted to be better than it is, it’s this British film based on the 1968 strike at the Ford plant in the London suburb of Dagenham. Given the recent events in Wisconsin, the time is right for any film to stand up in support of labor. And there’s no better medium for putting across the history of the worldwide workers’ movement, the struggles it fought, and the gains (now taken so lightly) it made.

And the Dagenham strike was of special importance: It was pivotal in bringing up the issue of equal pay for women. In the 1960s, it was the fourth largest auto plant in the world, employing more than 55,000 workers. Of those, 187 were women, employed sewing car seats. They initially struck because the company had reclassified them from semi-skilled to unskilled workers. But as they were met with either contempt or indifference by both the factory bosses and their own union representatives, the strike grew to the issue of equal pay, an unthinkable thing to ask at the time. Ford dug in its heels, preferring to let the entire plant go idle because it didn’t want to set a precedent for its other workers around the world. The walkout was eventually settled only with the intervention of the British government.

Unfortunately, Made in Dagenham is less interested in fleshing out this history lesson than it is in pandering to viewers looking at the issues with modern eyes. Every position is condensed to a single (mostly fictitious) character; you come away from it thinking of Rita O’Grady (played by Happy-Go-Lucky’s Sally Hawkins) as a combination of Norma Mae and Erin Brockovitch, when it fact the character is a composite of various women involved in the strike. Director Nigel Cole uses the same bland feel-good style as his Calendar Girls, about a group of middle-aged women raising funds for a hospital by putting out a nude calendar of themselves. As a lightweight, feel-good movie it’s fine (you can hardly dislike the bubbly Hawkins), but it wastes a good opportunity to educate viewers about the complexities of an issue that is in need of serious attention.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Made in Dagenham

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