A steeliness made in England

Before there was Spice Girls, there was Dagenham girls

 CERT: 15

DIRECTOR: Nigel Cole

STARRING: Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins and Jaime Winstone

AT a time when the subject of politics is piping hot, the imminent revival of the fight for equal pay thrusts this film into the modern-day spotlight.

 Bringing together a strong British cast, Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham sees Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) play Rita O’Grady, the woman who revolutionised the way women work.

Set in the tumultuous 1960s, the film tells the story of the infamous strike at Ford’s Dagenham plant where its 187machinists walked out amid fury over their pay packet.

Like a deer in the headlights, Rita finds herself at the centre of the debate over equal pay, an unwitting, nervy spokesman for a generation of women sticking up for their rights.

From the spine-tingling moment where Ritas tands up and nervously tells everyone to walk out after being graded as ‘unskilled’ workers, the sense that history is about to be made sets the action on edge.

With workshop steward Albert (Hoskins) supporting them in their right to take industrial action, the women, led by Rita, take their cause from the gates of the factory all the way to Westminster.

Facing a tough fight against the status quo, the strike angers men all across Britain as reserves of the women’s upholstering talents dry up, causing production at Ford to grind to a halt.

Rita finds herself the unwitting creator of a national crisis but forges on regardless, finally negotiating the terms of what would later become the Equal Pay Act with Secretary of State, Barbara Castle (Richardson).

Backed by a superb supporting cast, Hawkins plays Rita like a refrigerated blancmanche, wobbling on the brink of collapse as she faces a nation’s reluctance to accept women’s rights.

Yet her resistance to pressure from all sides is summed up perfectly in one loaded phrase, capturing the unsung steeliness of women bought up to make do and mend: “How will we cope?” she retorts. “We’re women. Of course we’ll cope. Now stop asking such stupid questions.”

A powerful comment on a socety entrenched in archaic views of women, Made in Dagenham paints 1960s Britain in all its revolutionary glory.

With cinematography that captures the heartache of the working class, the film provides an emotional glimpse of a country in cultural chaos.