I happened upon Made in Dagenham a couple of weeks ago when I was going through upcoming movies on HBO to record on my TiVo. I was intrigued by the short description:
In 1968, more than 800 women at a British auto factory walk off the job to protest sexual discrimination in pay in the workplace.
So, I set it to record and pretty much forgot about it. Until last week, that is, when I had a couple of hours to sit and watch a show while doing some light computer work and laundry.
At first I had trouble understanding what was going on because the accents were so strong. I found I had to pay closer attention to what was being said, but that didn't turn out to be a problem. The laundry would wait.
I don't know much about the labor movement in Britain. In fact, I don't know very much about recent British history except that during the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a fair amount of political unrest around issues of class and race and gender, similar to what was going on in the US and other places around the world at the time.
I cannot speak to the historical accuracy of this movie, but everything I've read about it since my first viewing makes me think the film follows the story pretty closely.
Basically, the story is that in 1968 the Dagenham Ford assembly plant employed 55,000 men and 187 women machinists. The women, having just been included in the union, go out on strike in support of their male counterparts. At one point, though, they complain about their jobs being classified as "unskilled" which means they are paid significantly lower than the men whose jobs are considered "skilled" even though the level of skill involved is the same. When their complaints are rebuffed not only by the Ford management but by their own union representatives, they decide to go out on strike for equal pay across the board.
Their strike goes on for several weeks, and causes a complete shut-down to all Ford plants in Britain, which makes not just the management team angry, but causes a rift in the union itself, and threatens the political stability of the entire country.
I don't want to spoil the story for you, though it's history and can be learned by doing a little reading on the subject. Not because I don't think you can't guess how it turns out, but because the story itself is so compelling. The writers not only show the struggle within the union and the women's struggles with coming to terms with their own power, but the struggle between the sexes as each has to find a new path into the future of equality, and the ever-present class issues that must be included in British stories.
Bob Hoskins is his usual awesome self, playing the junior union rep at the Dagenham plant, and Richard Schiff surprised me with his "bad guy" role as the US Ford representative sent to break the strike. The best performances, though, come from the amazingly talented cast of women. Miranda Richardson is brilliant as Barbara Castle, the fiery Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (in fact, what little reading I've done about Barbara Castle has firmly placed her near the top of my Must-Learn-More-About list). Rosamund Pike gives an exemplary performance as the well-bred wife of the Ford exec. Geraldine James, Andrea Riseborough, Jamie Winstone, and so many others round out this fantastic cast.
But the story really belongs to Rita O'Grady, superbly played by Sally Hawkins. Rita is a quiet young mother who comes into her own during the summer of 1968. She becomes the spokesperson for women's equality, and is shown speaking around the country, moving others to support the Dagenham strike. It's not an easy road for her, but she sticks with it.
If you need a strong dose of empowerment, you'll find it in this movie. These women didn't wait until men gave them their rights, they went out and got them on their own. And that, my princesses, is how it is done.