Hoskins in top gear for Made in Dagenham
Bob Hoskins stars in uplifting film about women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant
British film-makers sure do pick some odd topics don’t they? While Hollywood has very meticulously narrowed down their liabilities and rigged up a surprisingly tight template for consistent financial returns, British film-makers still basically have no idea what is likely to work; the industry is a matter of throwing mud at a wall and seeing what sticks.
A light-hearted, uplifting drama about the women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant striking for equal pay in 1968 may sound like an horrendous idea but then who’s to say it won’t be the next Full Monty? And, with the TUC promising a return to the Winter of Discontent, the timing is either perfect/diabolical for a feelgood film about industrial disputes.
The film presents an England where Tony Blackburn is always on Radio 1, the girls are all in miniskirts and the sun shines constantly – except when it’s tipping it down. It is like an expanded version of the on-shore scenes in The Boat That Rocked, right down to the caricature civil servants in Whitehall, living in fear of Miranda Richardson’s fearsome Barbara Castle.
A minor dispute about being reclassified as unskilled has bubbled along for months until a shrewd shop steward (Hoskins) manages to mould a seemingly ordinary shop floor worker (Hawkins) into an inspirational leader who will take on the stultifying sexist edifices of the Ford management and the trade union movement and kick-start the movement for equal pay.
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Dagenham feels almost like another example of self-fulfilling parody; 20-plus years ago The Comic Strip made The Strike spoofing a Hollywood treatment of Arthur Scargill. This, though, is our own distortion. I was going to call it a Mike Leigh remake of Carry On At Your Convenience but that would be lazy and inaccurate – I think that would be a much spikier piece.
Director Cole made Calendar Girls and Dagenham is exactly the film you’d expect it to be – heartfelt, humorous, bawdy, period setting, cosy – and if that’s a film you want you will be well served. Everybody has come out for this one; almost every role, no matter how insignificant is filled by a familiar face.
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On its own terms, it’s a solid piece though the storytelling is rather skimpy, particularly in terms of timescale: you never get any sense of how long the strike is dragging on.
This is how we package and preserve our history: by moulding hardships into story arcs; chipping people down into caricature and tying it all up in neat resolutions.