In the interest of full disclosure, I should state now that not only am I middle-classed, but I'm also a bloody man. Both of these traits are routinely maligned in Made in Dagenham. As such, I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself for insisting on being male as the end credits rolled by.
Made in Dagenham comes from the same director as Calendar Girls. I’ve not seen the latter, but after this elongated cinematic feast, I now do not wish to. Made in Dagenham tells the story (with some generous interpretations) of the female workers' protests over equal pay at Ford’s Dagenham plant, where cars were made, in Dagenham.
If you’re familiar with the Boots ‘Here Come the Girls’ adverts, you’ll know of the pain and suffering that these minutes of concentrated evil can cause. Now imagine all of them knitted together in a suffocating patchwork quilt of sisterhood, girl power, sisters doing it for themselves, and female camaraderie. That was the first half.
The second half saw a vast improvement, but couldn't compensate for the sins that prefixed it. The frivolity, irritating characters, and occasionally piecemeal plot-driving devices belittled what was, and still is, a serious equality issue. At times I found the big moving pictures so uncompelling that I often drifted off into my own thoughts about equal pay, and then about what was on TV that evening, and then my plans for the weekend.
Union action and union politics feature frequently throughout this film. The late 60s and subsequent decade were of course a turbulent time for the manufacturing and mining industries in Britain. Arguably, it was the strength of the unions which made Britain so uncompetitive in these areas because of relatively high labour costs. That is what Daily Mail readers can blame for a virtually nonexistent manufacturing industry, and the attached skill-set being sought overseas. While it hurts me unbearably to quote Jeremy Clarkson: “If you're watching this children, greed is bad.”
On the plus side, Dagenham boasts an impressive and varied cast including Bob Hoskins, Andrew Lincoln, Miranda Richardson, Trigger off Only Fools and Horses (Roger Lloyd-Pack), and Rosamund Pike. Despite holding the lowly position of supporting actor, Pike steals the show with her brief moments on screen. Lincoln also performs well, but his scene serves merely as a segue and would not be missed if removed.
The strength of this film lies in the gravitas and historical importance of the subject matter. It fails to be an entertaining watch in its own right, so if you wish to learn about these struggles for equal rights in the workplace, watch a documentary about it, or even better, read a book.