Friday, 5 August 2011

Made in Dagenham

Lowdown: The story of a landmark event in the fight for equal pay to women.
Idiot Taxes do have the occasional benefits, as is the case with the British National Lottery's sponsorship of a lot of good films coming out of the UK recently. Among these is Made in Dagenham, a film that takes upon its narrow shoulders the duty of telling us the story of a landmark event in women's rights: the first time in which women were on strike for the right to receive pay equal to men's, back in 1968. The fact most progressive countries now have laws that prohibit pay discrimination due to sex tells us something about what happened since the events depicted in the film took place. The fact that statistics clearly tell us that, effectively, women do not receive equal pay shows us we still have a long way to go.
As mentioned, the film's events take place in 1968. Yes, back at the time my parents were at the peak of their productive lives it was commonly taken for granted that women do not deserve equal pay. Some women in the Ford factory at Dagenham, England, begged to disagree, though. Rebellion develops at the factory's all women sewing team: Their work environment is miserable to begin with: the heat was so bad they had to take their shirts off to work their sewing machines, a fact the film does its best to capitalize on. Then management makes things worse by degrading them from professional workers into unskilled ones, affecting their pay.
At this point we are introduced to a union member (Bob Hoskins), who needs female candidates to add the numbers up at the management discussion table meeting that is generally an all men affair. Lacking options, he lands the quite and unlikely figurine of Rita (Sally Hawkins). Rita may be unlikely, but come the discussions she won't take the crap that passes for usual union to management negotiations; she quickly makes a stand, and soon enough the matter escalates into the question of the right for women to receive the same pay as men.
Things get complicated when cracks start appearing in the women's stand. There are enough temptations for them to abandon their unity on one hand, and on the other hand there is the general stance of men that have their own pressures and do not see much of a reason why women should deserve equal pay in the first place (now I know where all the bigotry my parents' generation often exhibits comes from). Will Rita/Sally manage this pressure cooker?
Two other women add their input to the process, allowing two other talented British actresses to contribute to make Made in Dagenham a film full of British talent. First we have Lisa (Rosamund Pike) playing the top Oxford/Cambridge graduate turned reluctant housewife to a Ford manager; Lisa has to determine where her allegiance lies. Then we have the ever wonderful Miranda Richardson playing the government minister in charge of settling the dispute that is threatening to drive the whole USA-Britain relationship special relationship up a certain creek. Sadly, at least by me, the two's contribution to the film is rather minimal.
I do not know how loyal Made in Dagenham is to actual events, but the film that starts on very promising grounds often fails to rivet. It ends up a nice feel good film, which is a fine achievement by any right, but I couldn't help feeling it could have aimed higher. Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the shallow handling of the subject matter is with the way Made in Dagenham fails to address its events' aftermath: There is no Ford factory at Dagenham anymore, or at least nothing like the monster factory the film depicts.
What I have found most interesting about Made in Dagenham is something totally different to the main agendas it promotes. The factory workers back then all lived near their place of work; colleagues at the sewing machines were also next door neighbors. Socially speaking, as of the 19th century there was a conscious effort in places like England to locate employees far from their places of work and far apart, in order to make any attempts to unite harder. It seems as if those efforts bore their fruits more than a century later, over the last few decades alone (and probably as of the time that factories like Dagenham's became irrelevant). Perceived financial affluence drove this process, in turn rendering our society much less cohesive than it was before. What a shame.
Best scene: I liked the period's depiction; it brings back memories. Made in Dagenham does a pretty good job there, even if you can clearly see a lot of the background is digital special effects. Where do they dig up those old Ford Transits from?
Technical assessment: There is an obvious attempt on this DVD to make things look seventies like (it should have been sixties, but I associate the sixties with the colorfulness of Austen Powers). That means the picture ends up suffering, and suffering it does - a lot. The sound is pretty average, in the bad sense of the word.
Overall: Fails to transcend to the heights it could have reached for, but still a nice film with good acting from everyone. 3 out of 5 stars.

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