REVIEW: ‘Made in Dagenham’

 

Grade: B-

 

Sitting in a crowded theater that fully embraces a movie is an awesome experience. Watching Made in Dagenham inspired many in the theater to cry, laugh, and even clap and cheer for the characters. After walking out of the theater I heard talks of how it was the best film the audience had seen in years, that it was a masterpiece. I wondered then and while I was watching the film if, somehow, the people sitting next to me and around me were in fact viewing a different film. I have no idea why Made in Dagenham would move someone to tears or why the audience would cheer when they did. Certainly the film was entertaining, but it has no significant lasting impact and not much repeat value. It has some great moments, but the moments that needed to be great, fell flat.

Made in Dagenham follows a woman named Rita, played by the usually brilliant Sally Hawkins, who leads a strike that eventually turns into an equal pay international fiasco. The story takes place in 1968. In case you can’t tell, this is another one of those “based on the incredible true story” films. I cannot tell you exactly how accurate the story is but essentially, this version credits Rita and her advisor (Bob Hoskins) for causing such a fuss. Eventually Rita finds the entire Ford factory closing down because of her strike. Her family loses faith in her and her life begins to fall through a little. But ultimately, the lows of this film didn’t feel low enough to me and the resolution really doesn’t work.

After the factory closes down there is a union meeting to determine whether or not the other unions within the ford factory will back the women in their strike. Rita’s husband follows her there to tell her off, but when he sees her delivering what is supposed to be an inspirational speech he and all of the unions are moved enough to keep trudging along with their stagnant lives. Shortly afterwards, he approaches her and gives her his full support and they are both crying. This should be the pinnacle moment of the film. Unfortunately, the speech is thoroughly uninspired, vague, and illogical, and her husband’s little speech isn’t much of anything at all.

Then we are greeted with the resolution. Throughout the film we get occasional glimpses of Miranda Richardson as the secretary of state. Inevitably, Rita and the women will have to meet with her. Richard Schriff is excellent as the head of Ford, who tells the secretary the irrationality of equal pay. She then meets with Rita and discovers that exactly how stubborn they are. She finds herself trapped between a rock and a hard place with no way out. She found herself in the middle of an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object, where there is no middle ground. There was no clever way to end this film. The secretary just has to pick a side and hope it works, so she does. And she is very, very happy about it, despite the fact that she may have just crushed England’s economy. Obviously it worked out for the best in reality, but the movie really downplays the difficulty of her decision as a mediator in the situation.

There are great moments in the film as well. The audience was not cheering and clapping at nothing. The film’s greatest moments are the moments of in-your-face defiance. You’ve all seen the moment in the trailer with a blonde woman having “Equal Pay” written across her stomach, Schriff’s reaction is just one of many priceless moments of rebelliousness. The film’s sharp humor in moments such as these elevate beyond the shortcomings of certain important elements.

Made in Dagenham would make an interesting double feature with Conviction. Both films are “incredible true stories” about women who endure hell to fight for the injustice that has been done against them. Both are severely flawed films that work in their moments of humor. But where I found Conviction to be a sweet small film with relatively inconsequential and harmless flaws; Made in Dagenham fails in moments that are central to the film’s motives. It fails where it is vital to succeed.

Also, like Conviction, Made in Dagenham has an incredible cast. But I don’t agree with the hype surrounding Sally Hawkins. She is an amazingly talented actress that didn’t step beyond average for this role. She isn’t bad, but this is no Happy-Go-Lucky performance. Oddly enough, from a film about feminism, the two roles that I appreciated the most were Bob Hoskins and Richard Schriff. Hoskins is hilarious and gives off a wonderful vibe as a nice guy that all the girls love, but also a brilliant guy with a motive. When Rita gets riled up at the first meeting, Hoskins has to hold in his laughter and pride. This is another one of the great moments. But I argue it is because of Hoskins, not Hawkins. Alas, Hoskins virtually disappears in the latter half of the film and I doubt he will get any recognition.

As far as the Oscars go, Hawkins may be in contention, but it is a stacked list of contenders, and frankly I don’t think she earned it this time around. Miranda Richardson is probably in for supporting actress seeing as the category is pathetically weak and she delivers some sincere intensity. I don’t see Made in Dagenham as a Best Picture contender mainly because I think that Another Year and The King’s Speech are both much more qualified and I can’t imagine three British films making it in one year. And I don’t really think it deserves it. It would be my fondest hope that Bob Hoskins makes the cut, but that seems highly improbable as well. All in all, you can mostly count this one out, but it is a still a pretty solid film.

The Bottom Line: Made in Dagenham is a wildly entertaining film with a wonderful cast. Unfortunately, it misses a few vital dramatic notes.

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