Made in Dagenham
John Lennon wrote a song called “Woman is the Nigger of the World”. He said that Yoko Ono first made the statement to him in 1968, and it took him until 1970 to ‘dig it’. Don’t get freaky now; as George Carlin said “It’s the context. It’s the context.”
Made in Dagenham takes place in 1968, during a strike by the female employees who sewed the seat covers at a Ford Motors plant in Dagenham, Great Britain, for less pay than their male counterparts performing similar work. It took Parliament until 1972 to ‘dig’ it to the point of passing the Equal Pay Act, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work. In the U.S., our version was passed in 1963.
As with all laws, to be effective, someone has to enforce it. And it’s especially true with laws that protect the vulnerable: if the “protected” themselves don’t stay vigilant and keep fighting, those against whom the law was made to protect will continue to slip it by, if not to, them, every chance they get. And that’s not paranoia. That’s just the truth of it.
Made In Dagenham is a workman-like film with a brilliant script and several beautifully realized performances. The simplicity and the heart of Bob Hoskins’ as shop steward Albert Passingham, and the courage, proper restraint and anger in Miranda Richardson’s Barbara Castle, the Employment Secretary in the Labour Government, are plenty to cheer about.
But for the same price of admission you get a radiant, intelligent and passionately-felt performance from the amazing Sally Hawkins. Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady, the unassuming, even shy seamstress in the Dagenham plant, who, because they ask her to, represents her mates at a union meeting. And she doesn’t nod her head and bite her tongue, but speaks truth to power, as the saying goes, and thereby hangs the tale.
At a point later in the film, when reporters are pestering her with questions, one asks, “How will you cope?” Rita thinks about it and then says, with the slightest bit of surprise, “We’re women.” As though to say, “It’s what we do.” She then continues, muttering as she turns to go to work, “… And you shouldn’t ask such stupid questions.”
There will be people who compare this film to Norma Rae, but I think they will be doing so in an effort to dismiss it. You shouldn’t dismiss it. You shouldn’t pass it by. The struggle continues, for women and for workers. The government bailed out the banks and now they’re doing fine. How’s your job security?
UPDATE: Made In Dagenham opens at the Oriental Theatre on January 21, 2011.