April 5, 2011
Made in Dagenham (2010) **1/2
Directed by Nigel Cole
Made in Dagenham (2010)- Hawkins is solid & tale is inspiring, but it's predictable, on the nose and riddled with cliches. **1/2 out of 5
It's never fun to come down on the other side of a movie about such a monumental moment for women's rights, especially considering that I'm a man, but Made in Dagenham works overtime (no pun intended) to craft itself as completely predictable and unabashedly shallow. Without an excellent lead performance from Sally Hawkins, easily one of my favorite actresses, this paint by numbers workers' rights genre template could have been completely unbearable. Hawkins breaths some life into a character written as a caricature alongside countless other caricatures inhabiting the world of 1960s England with its sexist injustices in the way pay was structured in the workplace.
Bob Hoskins, though quite good, is wasted as the manager of 187 women in the Ford Factory in Dagenham who immediate believes in the cause of equal pay because, as he puts it, he and his brothers were raised by a woman who worked hard without getting her fair share. Hawkins plays Rita O'Grady, a mild-mannered worker who finds herself up to the task of spearheading the strike. She needs to rise to the challenge due to the difficult home life of the elected shop steward Connie, played by Geraldine James. While Rita must struggle with fighting for her cause while shirking perceived duties as mother of two children and wife of daft but sweet Eddie, played by Daniel Mays, Connie's husband really does need her considering that he's losing his sanity after dealing with debilitating injuries that stem back from his service in the war.
Meanwhile, as the ladies' cause gains notoriety and momentum, a Ford executive, played by Richard Schiff, an actor I love, works to undermine the movement first by manipulating the head of the workers' union and later by threatening Secretary of State Barbara Castle, played by Miranda Richardson, that Ford will pull out of England thereby costing the jobs of 40,000 workers. Rita and company must deal with a myriad of men who not only see their grievances as a headache, but also underestimate their sheer will power.
As I said before, every character is a caricature. The women are lumped together as sassy spitfires who like to sexually harass men and curse like sailors. Schiff's villain is so evil that you could picture him twirling his mustache, that is if Schiff didn't choose to shave off his usual facial hair. Worst of all, though, is the painfully hammy performance by Miranda Richardson, who obnoxiously mistakes volume for gravitas. Richardson chooses to scream at the top of her lungs repeatedly towards two young men that help her run her office. While the intended effect is to show a strong, independent woman in a leadership role, what actually happens is that we begin to feel sorry for the men who have to work with such a ridiculously irritating and overcompensating pill of a human being.
Everything is played at the most earnest level, and with a script that provides no nuance or realism whatsoever, there needed to be enough characters with whom audiences could connect. Instead, Hawkins, giving the best performance, exists mostly as a saintly anchor for all of the loons that surround her. Though it's fun to watch Hawkins deliver her lines, there's nothing to her character's motivations and struggles burrowing underneath the surface, and literally no one else besides Rita registers in any interesting way whatsoever. Sadly, it's at the surface where Made in Dagenham plays out, all the way to an all-too-familiar, inevitable conclusion. The women of the Dagenham Ford factory deserve better than this.