It was 1968 and Dagenham, England was a working class town centered around a Ford Motors plant. The factory women sewed car seat upholstery and were grossly underpaid compared to their male counterparts, many of whom were their husbands. That, mixed with grueling work conditions, propelled them to go on strike. With the support of her superior Albert (Bob Hoskins) the amicable but fierce Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) spearheaded the walk out which grew into something bigger than they could have ever imagined.

If I were a high school history teacher, I’d persuade the principal to have class move to the theatre for an afternoon. If I was your women’s studies professor, you can be sure I’d make mention of this film before lecture. Alas, I am neither of those things, but I’m hoping you catch my drift: this is an important story you should know. Illuminating history lesson aside, Made in Dagenham is an incredibly charming film that will have you wanting to stand up and cheer; inspirational, emotional and full of clever one-liners that offer immense satisfaction with a smirk.

What started as an almost giddy whim escalated into a mighty mission that was met with fierce hostility, within domestic life, community life and on an intimidating international level. It was not easy, but the women made noise, pushed on and finally someone with power and the ability to make change heard, Barbara Castle. The First Secretary of State, played by powerhouse Miranda Richardson, was elected to parliament in 1945 and remains the female MP with the longest continuous service. We asked Richardson what excited her most about this role,

“She’s kind of an icon for a lot of people, but I didn’t really know anything about her. The idea of playing her intrigued me. I’m not going to use that expression ballsy, because it’s a male term, but l just love how she went about things.” Although Richardson’s character isn’t on screen a lot, she plays a pivotal part and the few scenes she does have are instrumental to both the story and overall tone of this film. Further, watching Castle outsmart and outwit her incompetent male colleagues is absolutely delicious. Her praise for Castle continues, “She was individualistic, imaginative, engaged, passionate and committed – she got things done. She’s amazing….sexual, an alive person – she’s great to play.”

I ask Richardson what her thoughts are on the current state of inequity, “We haven’t won the war, the pay dispute is still going on, she’d [Barbara Castle] probably be turning in her grave.” She speaks fondly of her castmates and director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls, Saving Grace), but relays that the real reward will come if, “people see this movie and are really inspired by it – just to go out and do something , that they didn’t necessarily think they could, whatever that means to them – then that would be fantastic.”

Made in Dagenham is certainly a film that makes you want to stand up and do something, but if major change seems daunting, perhaps Richardson’s simplified motto will help, “It’s one life – get on with it!”

~Jen McNeely

An inspiring story and festival gem, Made in Dagenham opens in select theatres this weekend.
Watch the trailer now.