If the 1979 film Norma Rae had been made in England by someone with a sense of humor and a sense of restraint, the result might well have been Made in Dagenham, another film about a feisty young woman standing up to management.
Made in Dagenham is one of those “based-on-a-true-story” films, about how wife and mother Rita O’Grady wound up leading the fight to win equal pay for women who worked at Ford’s auto plant in Dagenham, England in 1968. Rita is played by Sally Hawkins (who looks a lot like Cindy Williams to those of us man enough to admit seeing the occasional episode of Laverne and Shirley.) Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson may be a bit too adorable in their supporting roles, but I remain a big fan of both.
You always know how stories like this are going to end (you’ll laugh, you’ll cry), so the most compelling thing about it for me was the near-perfect creation of a remarkable time (the late ’60s) in a not-so-remarkable place (industrial Britain). Clothes, cars, hair and music are common cues for period pieces like this, but here they are employed with just enough subtlety to ring true. From the poignant opening shot of all the real-looking working women showing up for work on their bicycles, the movie establishes an authenticity that is almost as interesting as the story itself. But maybe that’s because I’m a child of the ’60s.
Made in Dagenham closes with a montage of the real women who worked and went on strike at the Ford plant. It’s a nice coda to to an understated film, but sometimes in movies like this the fake story is so charming you don’t really want to know the real one. This movie won’t bring us any maudlin speeches at Oscar time (hear that, Sally Field?), but it’s definitely worth a spot on your Netflix queue. Dave Bob says check it out.