10 October, 2010

Review: Made in Dagenham: Stitch up Made in BritComLand

Made in Dagenham is the based on a true story story of the 1968 strike at Ford's Dagenham plant of 187 (sewing) Machinists, women stitching together car upholstery and trim, who demanded pay equal to their male counterparts. In classic BritCom tradition, the film-makers have thrown a sterling cast of British actors together. Unfortunately, the actors should have gone on strike to demand a better script. The result is not a complete lemon, but a vehicle that only lurches out of third gear on a few occasions.

The script does have moments of well observed humour, pithy and bawdy dialogue, and punchily framed rhetoric, but its schematic plot contrivances are welded on with all the grace of a dodgy cut and shunt (back end from Brassed Off, front from Calendar Girls). It veers into melodramatic subplot about a WWII vet, which clunkily serves as a) inspiration for a rousing speech, b) the basis of a false rift between main character and a secondary protagonist. In true BritCom tradition a third act argument leads to a partner getting on a mode of transport to chase after the other to issue an apology (do Brits only show a depth of feeling based on mileage?)

Sally Hawkins shines in the everywoman role of worker turned firebrand spokesperson, Rita O'Grady (or more like Basil Exposition's distant cousin, Vera O'Composite). Other action figures include the Slapper (Andrea Riseborough), the Glamour Girl (Jaime Winstone) and the Mature One (Geraldine James), all of whom are wheeled on and off to present their plot points. Rosamund Pike, as Middle Class Woman, delivers the golden turd of a message speech about the historical context and the implications to women of all classes with such aplomb that I felt my heart in my chest, but I felt dirty and used for responding to such a thuddingly shoehorned piece. Likewise, some other set pieces work extremely well, the way Hawkins face simmers with frustration and inchoate rage when she is rendered speechless by Andrew Lincoln's witheringly condescending schoolteacher (whose indiscriminate caning policy is at question). This should lead to some subsequent confrontation, but only, as it transpires, serves as an awkward cute meet between O'Composite and Middle Class Woman.

Trade Union corruption and hypocrisy and US/UK trade relations are touched upon in potentially interesting ways, but their sins are simplified reductively into two baddie characters, making the rest immaculate. The end titles even have a sop about Ford now being a model employer (see The Town's really sincere apologia to Charlestown above). The context of rife trade union disputes throughout Britain is alluded to only in exposition and news clips. There is also a queasy moment which suggests that the idea for equal pay came, not from the women, but from Bob Hoskins cheeky chappy shop steward.

The great cast does manage to breathe life into their unfleshed out characters, but are wasted when given so little to do. Opportunities may now be more equal, but this film is mostly missed ones. If the script had explored both the characters and the issues in even a scintilla more depth, then this might be a classic British film. Instead it is just another well meaning model rolling off the BritCom production line.

Sidebar 1: My wife lost patience viewing this quite early on. Her knowledge of history serving as a spoiler, she knew what it was heading for, and just wanted them "to get on with it."

Sidebar 2: Much has been made of producer Stephen Woolley's protestations that the film has received a BBFC 15 certificate due to its "authentic" language. However, by creating composite characters (as either there was no really central historic person that led the strike, or those that had did not suit the dramatic purposes of the filmmakers), they've taken a step away from authenticity. Of course, without the dramatic contrivances the script grafts onto the story you are left with the pretty slim plot, "women go on strike, after a while some of their demands are met". It does leave you with the conundrum of spotting which contrivances were based on so true you couldn't write it, and which are just plot pollyfilla from the scriptwriter as workshy brickie.



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