‘Made in Dagenham’ Infuses Labor Relations with Populist Verve (Review)

Made in Dagenham
Sally Hawkins, courageous labor leader. (Sony Classics)

In 1968, London may have been swinging, but Dagenham, England was sweltering. The 187 women working in the machinists section of the Ford automobile plant would strip to bras and slips to deal with the heat as they stitched together upholstery for car seats. It wasn’t easy work, but because Ford had recently re-classified it as unskilled labor, the small core of women workers received the lowest wages at the factory.

That’s the precipitating factor for “Made in Dagenham,” directed by Nigel Cole (“Calendar Girls”), which begins by establishing a groovy vibe, accompanied by a montage of period clips and opening credits. The women are under pressure, like every other low-wage factory worker in the world, and they’ve made their complaints known to the plant’s management, via union representative Albert (Bob Hoskins). They’ve been threatening to walk out over the issue.

Shop steward Connie (Geraldine James), distracted by problems at home — her husband George (Roger Lloyd Pack) is slowly slipping into senility — has come to rely upon her friend and co-worker Rita (Sally Hawkins) for emotional support, and so asks her along for a meeting with company executives. The men, led by Peter Hopkins (Rupert Graves) are dismissive, and union leader Monty Taylor (Kenneth Cranham) is acquiescent; he’s more concerned about maintaining civil relations with the company so as to negotiate better deals for the overwhelming male majority.

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