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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Made in Dagenham

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Chick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-grey-sm Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Made in Dagenham

Based on the true story of the 1968 strike initiated by women for equal pay, Made in Dagenham illustrates gender discrimination in mod clothes and teased hair, with a cup of tea nearby.  The titular city’s in England, pronounced “daggin-um” and sits on a Ford estate, which means the houses and apartments are filled with unionized plant workers for the auto giant.

Life for the workers revolves around the assembly and construction of Ford cars, their seats covered by scraps of material expertly sewn together to look seamless.  It’s the women (job title: machinists) that make this last endeavor possible.

Conditions for women workers are haphazard, beginning with a leaky, sweltering warehouse where they routinely remove their blouses to work at one of dozens of sewing machines.  They re-dress when the cry of “MAN!” goes out, as it does when union steward Albert (Bob Hoskins) arrives to tell them the bad news about their petition for equal pay and grading.  By classifying the jobs as unskilled, Ford can get away with paying the women less than their males counterparts in jobs holding skilled classifications.

Corrupt and corpulent trade union executive Monty (Kenneth Cranham) placates the women and plays the game with the big boys at Ford until shy but savvy Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) speaks up and is soon made spokesperson for the women’s issues.

Newly appointed Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) proves to be as formidable as her title and so is Lisa (Rosamund Pike) the wealthy wife of a Ford executive, marginalized by her husband as merely a hostess and home accessory despite possessing a Cambridge college degree.

The film highlights the “pet-like” way women were treated by men, patted on the head when they pleased them, told to sit down and shut up when they did not.  At stake was a job classification (skilled) that would lead to a pay raise.  Ford’s claim that the job was unskilled ignored the women’s considerable expertise – hardly something you could pluck someone off of the street to do with no training.

The women play hardball and make sacrifices, garnering support and derision from spouses put out of work by their primary strike.  They endure monetary and morale hardships and are bullied and browbeaten by the men in power.  Some even experience tragedy, and the willpower to continue the fight wavers dangerously.

You can see where this is leading without a guide dog.  The gratifying part is that it actually happened and played out as a history-making precedent for gender equality.  The astounding part is that it was even an issue in the first place, opposed by privileged white men headquartered in America.

Sally Hawkins as the mild mannered mouthpiece that galvanized (and polarized) a nation, is likeable and gently ferocious in the role.  Bob Hoskins brings a trustworthiness to the forward-thinking Albert that is comforting and genuine.  Miranda Richardson fairly spits out nails of tough dialogue as the pillar of strength that is Barbara Castle (more like a fortress).

Director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) summons up the spirit of the 60’s, illustrating that Britain’s feminist movement started a few years earlier than America’s and may have even inspired it.  The William Ivory script is predictable at times, but shimmers with humor and heart and for the most part imitates the women’s finished factory product: expertly crafted and seamless.

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