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In 1968 Dagenham, young wife and mother Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) works with 186 other women as machinists for Ford UK, sewing car seat covers - for a wage well below male rates of pay. When union organizer Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) encourages them to demand better wages to recognize their skills, the women agree to take industrial action. Rita's down to earth approach attracts Albert, who encourages her to take part in further negotiations - not just for higher pay but for full equal pay with men. Previously apolitical, Rita launches into the fray with enthusiasm, leaving her factory worker husband Eddie (Daniel Mays) to look after their children and the chores. The strike that ensues threatens to break up relationships and not all the male-dominated unions are supportive. But the Minister for Employment, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) is, as is Lisa (Rosamund Pike), the wife of senior Ford executive Peter Hopkins (Rupert Graves).

Review by Louise Keller:
Never underestimate the power of women is the moral behind this rousing and uplifting true story in which 187 machinists fight for what's right and as a result, raise the bar for all women by getting equal pay. A crowd-pleaser with many elements including its 1968 setting, complete with hot pants, eyeliner and fashion references, Calendar Girls director Nigel Cole knows how to involve us and get us hooked. Inspiring as only a true story can be, it's about ordinary women standing up for a principle. The action is funny and awkward as it builds its momentum in the lead up to its game-changing and satisfying conclusion. The result is like a huge wave: you can see it coming but it's not until it hits that you are swept away.

The action starts in the Ford machinists' workroom in Dagenham near London, where the women cope with the heat by stripping into bras and petticoats. But the heat rises in different ways when their bid to be graded above their status as non-skilled labour escalates and changes direction. When we first meet union man Albert Passingham (an in-form Bob Hoskins), we know straight up he has great affection for the women as he banters and playfully covers his eyes. He is the unsung hero of this story - the man of principle whose life-long admiration for women begins from his role-model mother.

This is Sally Hawkins' second role-of-a-lifetime (following her Oscar winning role in Happy go Lucky) and she delivers beautifully as Rita O'Grady, wife and mother-of-two who, propelled by Albert's encouragement, represents her fellow-workers and takes a stand. In the beginning the stakes are small. There's a meeting, a one-day strike and low-key demonstration in the rain. There's dissention in the ranks. As it snowballs into a major division of the sexes, including a clash with husband Eddie (Daniel Mays is excellent), things become really interesting and a hilarious meeting with Miranda Richardson's fiery redhead Government Minister (complete with nips of sherry) is one of the film's funniest scenes. The divine Rosamund Pike is a stand out as the elegantly dressed Lisa Hopkins, the former history student who wears Biba and whose life and aspirations connect with Rita's in unexpected ways.

Screenwriter Billy Ivory has written a well structured script with enough attention to character to make us understand the English working class plight. From the coal face on the factory floor to issues of national significance and beyond, the story is an exuberant one with a splendid pay off. Watch for the clips featuring the real women from Dagenham during the closing credits.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Just when you thought the world was going to be changed by governments, committees or international panels on whatever, along comes a reminder that almost all significant change through history has been largely through the drive, conviction and energy of individuals. Like equal pay for women, now accepted world best practice. Not that long ago, in 1968, this was unheard of. Made in Dagenham tells us how it came to pass that a young suburban mother and her workmates helped change the course of industrial relations history - and working women's lives in the process.

This is a classic David and Goliath story, wrapped in the trappings of a women's rights victory. And it's terrific cinema, playing like a mix of thriller and social drama, but handled with a lightness of touch that makes it highly entertaining and effortless to absorb. Sally Hawkins creates an unlikely (and at first reluctant) David in Rita O'Grady, pitching her performance perfectly as the everywoman who finds herself in a position to drive change - even beyond her initial intent - and pursues it vigorously. She is driven by a sense of justice, not mere token feminism and her battle against the Goliath of Ford finds obstacles even close to home. It's a perfect example of an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things.

The screenplay weaves together the central political story with the everyday lives of the key characters in a thoroughly satisfying way, making the film rich and layered. There are family problems for both Rita and for her co-worker Connie (Geraldine James - moving) and the naturally glamorous Rosamund Pike has a great role as Lisa Hopkins, the highly educated wife of one of Ford's senior executives, who provides crucial moral support (and lends a dress) when Rita most needs it.

There are a couple of hammy moments from minor supports but Bob Hoskins is beautifully cast as the big hearted union official whose mother's struggles has given him a genuine feminist streak and Miranda Richardson is superb as Barbara Castle, the Employment Minister who stands up to Ford's threats and helps Rita - and all working women - a step closer to genuine equal pay for equal work. And Ford itself changes its bad old ways globally as a result; that kind of change for the better is well worth documenting in the mass entertainment medium of cinema.

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By Sue Williams

(UK, 2010)

CAST: Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins, Rupert Graves, Richard Schiff, Daniel Mays, Matt King

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley

DIRECTOR: Nigel Cole

SCRIPT: Billy Ivory


MUSIC: David Arnold


RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 28, 2010

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