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Made in Dagenham


Stars: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Daniel Mays, Rosamund Pike, Geraldine James, Andrea Riseborough, Miranda Richardson, Jaime Winstone, Rupert Graves, Richard Schiff, Kenneth Cranham

Director: Nigel Cole

There was always a chance that, with a decent script, this emotive feelgood story based on true events could make a decent film. Screenwriter William Ivory has exceeded this remit, and the result is a very good film indeed, with a performance at its heart by gawky Hawkins that could win her the Oscar nomination she just missed for Happy-Go-Lucky.

It's 1968 and the 187 women machinists at Ford's motor plant in Dagenham, which employs 55,000 men (were there no black faces at Dagenham in '68?) work their fingers off in cramped, leaky conditions for a fraction of the men's wages. Unrest is in the air and the woman, egged on by their local union rep (Hoskins) rebel against their classification as unskilled.

Early on in the dispute, Hoskins makes the inspired decision to co-opt Rita O'Grady (Hawkins) on to the negotiating committee alongside unsavoury, deal-conceding chief union rep Monty (Cranham). Told to say nothing, Rita complies only so far - then, to Hoskins' delight, tells the management what she thinks. Before long, the fight for reclassification has developed into a full-scale battle over equal pay, with Rita at its head.

Through a shared school dispute, she makes friends with upper-class Lisa (Pike) who, unknown to Rita, is the wife of Ford's English boss (Graves) - but sympathetic to the women's cause.

Certain predictable developments do follow, including Rita's progressive fallout with her loving husband (Mays, almost as good as Hawkins); the fate of co-worker Connie's husband, and her eventual reconciliation with Rita, are also easily seen, and rather clumsily signposted. Generally, though, the script is literate, and highly effective at all the key moments. Pike, Hoskins and Cranham are all bang on the money, but the film rightly belongs to its star. Hawkins is an actress who has shown she needs the right role to showcase her highly individual talent. And, boy, does she get it here. Excellent throughout, Hawkins is absolutely magnificent in a showdown with Mays, when she responds to his outburst about supporting her and never hitting her or the children by telling him this is only how it should be. This scene alone should bring her to the attention of Academy Award voters come next year.

Who cares if she looks nothing like the real Rita (more, with her Sixties hairdo, like Rita Tushingham) - an accusation that could never be levelled against Richardson, a dead ringer for government minister Barbara Castle, whom she plays with such crisp authority.

One technical quibble: the dress Hawkins borrows from Pike at the climax would never have fitted her; the two actresses are completely different shapes and about six inches apart in height.

David Quinlan

UK 2010. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour by deluxe.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Sep 2010