In one of the more interesting question and answer sessions at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, an audience member challenged director Nigel Cole with an opinion that his comedy, Made in Dagenham, treated the union victory as a happy ending. While the strike’s resolution did make great strides for pay equity across the gender divide, the rise of strong unions in the United Kingdom also led to the eventual closing of plants as companies moved industrial jobs to third world countries. What the film portrays as an advancement, the argument went, was actually more of a Pyrrhic victory, a first step leading to a country in which all the members were now worse off because of the lack of any industrial jobs at all.
Cole, interestingly enough, didn’t try to rebut the notion that there may be have been an historical connection between stronger labor unions and industries leaving for greener pastures. Instead, he called it a strange sort of “progress.” Progress, you see, can be measured in a lot of ways, and pounds and pence are only one metric. In this logic, Cole was in line with Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), the heroine of his film, whose ultimate appeal to her male coworkers is not that they should support the women’s union because it is in their self interest but because, deep down, they know it is the right thing to do.
How old fashioned.
Cole also mentioned that he got the idea for the film when he heard the actual participants of the Ford plant strike on the radio. What struck him was their humor, so don’t expect a British Norma Rae. The film is as much about the relationships between these women and how they are ennobled and encouraged by one another as it is about their political struggles. It’s hard to get actors recognition for ensemble pieces, but Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins both give stellar performances.
For more thoughts on the film, as well as the French documentary The Game of Death (Le jeu de la mort), click on the link below. Podcasts are also available at Itunes: