Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Daniel Mays, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Richard Schiff, Rupert Graves, Danny Huston (voice)
Written by: William Ivory
Directed by: Nigel Cole
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 113
Date: 09/11/2010

Made in Dagenham (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pay Break

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Made in Dagenham is one of those "based-on-a-true-story" movies that ends with footage of the real participants as they are today. Perhaps they're not as glamorous as the movie stars, but they add an air of respectability to the movie, as if to say: "See? We didn't make this up?" Many filmmakers who adapt true stories are slavishly dedicated to "truth," rather than art or imagination. In many cases, it's almost better to make something up; at least that way, the movie gets off the ground.

As always, this is in no way meant to criticize the real events depicted in Made in Dagenham: A group of women workers at a Ford plant took the first steps in 1968 that would lead them to receive pay equal to their male counterparts; it's virtually impossible to oppose this notion today, and the corporate thugs that do so in the film are shown as sneering villains, and embodied by a slimy American representative (Richard Schiff).

Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) leads the fight in the film, with support from her shop steward Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins). In an early conflict with a teacher at her son's school, she is shown to be meek and passive, but when she attends meetings with the auto worker's union, she speaks her mind and gets things done. Most of the movie consists of Rita attending meetings; one climactic meeting takes place with Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson). Otherwise, she's seen holding up picket signs, or enduring the scorn of her male co-workers. Her poor husband (Daniel Mays) is left to cook for the two kids and do the washing; he burns the food and gets all the way down to his last shirt.

Rosamund Pike turns up in a small role as an educated, but bored housewife loosely connected to these events; she's mostly here to shake up the story and maybe provide some box office appeal. As for Ms. Hawkins, I'm second to no one in my adoration for her, but she's underused here. The role is underwritten and perhaps cast simply to take advantage of the awards buzz she generated for Happy-Go-Lucky (2008).

Director Nigel Cole had previously made Calendar Girls (2003), which was an attempt to follow up on those quirky, lighthearted British hits The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine, and he appears to be attempting the same thing here. Everything is cute and light, Hawkins gets her big speech at the end, and nothing ever appears to be heavily at stake. It almost makes you wonder if those nice ladies at the end of the film had actually seen it before adding their comments. Their real-life journey was no doubt full of much richer drama.

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