For a film that wants itself to be taken seriously, Made in Dagenham’s (2010) marketing campaign has made it very hard to look at the film as anything other than light-hearted and cheap. The generic ‘group of smiling people on a white background’ poster and uninspired title makes it out to be a dull and vacuous affair, but Made in Dagenham is much more than that.
Good films do sometimes tend to sell themselves as somewhat beneath their level, and I really wish Made in Dagenham hadn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t have put off seeing what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing story. Ignore everything you may have seen about it, because it’s just not the film it’s made out to be.
Alongside the support of their sympathetic boss, Albert (the show stealing Bob Hoskins), O’Grady and her fellow workers continuously fail to convince Ford’s heads to take them seriously until their cause is noticed by the plant manager’s wife (Rosamund Pike) and the Secretary of Labour, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson). With new weight behind them and a sudden increase in attention from the rest of England, O’Grady and the rest of the strikers suddenly find themselves in a position from which Ford, and companies across the country, will have to start listening to them.
Although O’Grady’s fictive presence does somewhat detract from the women who did come together to strike, the use of a single protagonist is useful, for those not around at the time, in getting a sense of just how difficult it was being a woman in the 60s. Sally Hawkins plays O’Grady with such tireless conviction that by the end of the film she represents a part of each of the 187 women involved. Without her the film might have met a lot of difficulties, not least in the side-stories about the strike’s effects on the families of those involved.
Her relationship with her husband, Eddie, effectively mirrors the problems that men had with the entire feminist movement and brings a greater social context to the film. His failure to come to terms with her newfound position in the union does show the general ignorance of men but it is not until he declares O’Grady to be lucky that he’s never hit her that the full extent of quite what the strikers are up against becomes truly apparent.
The problem with Made in Dagenham is that although it’s clearly very enjoyable, it never really tries to be anything more than that. It needed to be darker and more determined to truly get to grips with the momentous feat the women in it strive towards, and such a lacking leaves the story without any great depth. Much has been written on the absence of any real political focus but this doesn’t really seem to matter. What matters is the women involved and, although there are some shortcomings in getting into the heart of the matter, they are treated with great grace and humour.
Ultimately Made in Dagenham is very uncomplicated in its approach, living up to the ‘uplifting’ tag given to it, but the lack of bite really leaves the viewer wanting. The wonderfully nostalgic visuals and terrific supporting cast have to be mentioned, but neither can take away from the film’s underlying problems. Despite everything, it’s still incredibly enjoyable and although it does lack some imagination, the whole thing is entertaining, joyous and lively. Made in Dagenham can be watched in the same way as Slumdog Millionaire (2008); it’s not going to blow you away but you’ll still have a lot of fun with it.