In 1968, employed at Ford’s assembly plant in Dagenham, London, were some 55,000 men and 187 women. Which gender do you think ruled the roost? You do the math.
Opening Friday, “Made in Dagenham” depicts the real-life story and struggle of those female sewing machinists who bravely went on strike against what they rightly saw as unfair labor practices: that they were paid 15 percent less than males.
Their working conditions aren’t exactly ideal, either. As the film opens, the room in which the women spend all day sewing seat covers is so sweltering, many of them perform such work in their undies. Enter Bob Hoskins (“Doomsday”) in the surrogate-mother role of Albert, the only male sympathetic to their situation. He helps rally the troops to stage a one-day work stoppage to make their voices heard by management. Their thinking is, cars need seat covers; without them, production will grind to a halt.
The women take to the protest as if it were a party, until it gets rained out. As the crowd dissipates, so does the enthusiasm of the ladies, save for Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins, “Never Let Me Go”). At Albert’s urging (“Someone has got to stop these extraordinary bastards”) and despite a lack of support from her husband (Daniel Mays, “Nanny McPhee Returns”), Rita not only takes up the cause, but takes the show on the road, all the way to an out-of-herelement speech before the trade union conference in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
That the film ends with a victory for the Dagenham women in the form of the British Parliament’s Equal Pay Act 1970 is a given. So is that Rita’s spouse will apologize somewhere in Act 3 for being such an arse. The whole point of historical pictures is filling in the blanks, and director Nigel Cole (“Calendar Girls”) does so with the archness typical of British dramas — enough to keep “Made” from taking itself too seriously, but not so much that it downplays the importance of its subject.
It’s pleasantly a hair above average, resembling a BBC version of “Norma Rae,” with more troublesome accents. Like some fine wines, it’s a little dry, but delivers enough of a buzz here and there until enough is clearly enough; two hours is a little long for this particular story. Still, stick around during the closing credits for footage of the Dagenham workers today, which is a nice, touching gesture.
All the praise — not to mention a Golden Globe — heaped upon Hawkins for her daffy but divisive role in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go- Lucky” now seems misplaced, as she’s more effective and likable here. Miranda Richardson (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) threatens to steal the show merely by talking tough, but leave it to the rather fetching Rosamund Pike (“Surrogates”) to do so quietly, with a confession scene that’s so heartbreaking, she’s deserving of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress that, given the film’s low profile, she isn’t going to get.
Is it too late to mount a protest?