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Made in Dagenham

by on March 27, 2011
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The Brits did it again.

With “Made in Dagenham,” BBC Films and the UK Film Council took a phenomenal true story and beat the U.S. at its own inspirational-film game.

In 1968, 187 workers at the British Ford Automobile Plant went on strike. As machinists, they were labeled “unskilled workers” and therefore received a lower grade of pay. Never mind that their work was so highly detailed that it required passing a test.

These 187 employees were women — women in a workforce of 55,000 men, who themselves had gone on strike repeatedly. Women who worked not because they wanted to but because their households depended on the income. Women who, despite toiling in an overheated warehouse while also shielding their children from abusive teachers and caring for spouses afflicted with PTSD, were constantly referred to as “girls.”

As the reluctant leader of what becomes a fight for equal pay, Sally Hawkins (who seems to appear in nearly every British film these days, not that I’m complaining) effortlessly combines a can-do smile with sheer grit. As the Secretary of State far removed from the working class, Miranda Richardson is a formidable force of energy, doing her own daily battles with a male-dominated government. The strong, largely female supporting cast is rounded out by Bob Hoskins’ sympathetic steward, himself raised by a single mother at a time when underpaying women wasn’t a question, it was a fact of life.

And more than three decades later, it’s still a fact of life.

As well as the workforce, pop culture continues its patriarchal reign of terror. If it were made in the USA, “Made in Dagenham” would no doubt be relegated to the Lifetime Channel. Never mind that it’s well-directed, fantastically acted and features pops of ’60’s color, fashion and music. You see, it’s a story about ladies. And while Mark Wahlberg yelling in a Boston accent while beating other men in a boxing ring is considered a universal story, films by and for women are still considered a niche market — something strictly for specialty cinemas and cable channels, not art.

“Made in Dagenham” is art to me. In 1991, an 11-year-old girl walked into “A League of Their Own” and emerged a baby feminist. In 2011, a 30-year-old feminist (yes, I used the F word) popped in “Made in Dagenham” and was reminded why I keep fighting the good fight.

DVD extras include director commentary, outtakes and a making-of featurette.

Film: 5 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps