It’s commonplace for biopics to end with a shot of the actual people who inspired the preceding movie.
Sometimes it jolts you back to reality when you’re reminded how little the actors resemble their characters: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner, for example. in other instances it enhances the experience, adding an enormous emotional punch to the payoff (gird yourself for Aaron Ralston in 127 Hours).
In Made In Dagenham, however, it only shows how the filmmakers have skewed their story to make it a sexier sell. The sewing-machinists of Ford’s Dagenham plant were working class women, sick of being paid like second-class citizens, who struck a vital blow for equality; cardigan-wearing middle-aged mums with bingo wings, not tabloid-friendly totty in miniskirts...
Pitched somewhere between her feeble upper-class rape victim in Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky’s chatty optimist, Sally Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady, the ordinary machinist who leads the revolt.
Backing her are Geraldine James as Connie – who, with her ailing husband (Roger Lloyd-Pack), feels like a throwback to director Nigel Cole’s Calendar Girls; Jaime Winstone’s wannabe model, Sandra, and Andrea Riseborough’s tart-tongued Brenda.
Understandably indignant at being classed – and paid – as ‘unskilled’, they take a collective stand that gets the entire plant closed down and sees their families barely scrape by.
The film starts and ends in 1968 but the equal Pay act wasn’t passed until 1970, only don’t expect a ‘what happened next...’ featurette, or further footage of the real Ford women as glimpsed over the end titles.
Instead, along with Cole’s praise-filled commentary, all you get are deleted snippets, corpsing aplenty in the gag reel and a self-congratulatory 13-minute making of.
In the latter, Cole says he and screenwriter William ivory tried to paint a unique picture of classes uniting in a common cause (super-posh Rosamund Pike plays a Ford exec’s trophy wife, while Miranda Richardson impersonates then-secretary of state Barbara Castle).
But what they’ve come up with are the same old underdog motifs we’ve been asked to champion at the British box office ever since The Full Monty. Every beat, every obstacle, is obvious.
As well-cast and made as the film is, and as stirring as the women’s fight is, Made In Dagenham fails to satisfy. You might have a tear in your eye at the end, but that’s for the class of ’68, not their modishly skinny present-day avatars.
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Adding gloss takes the sheen off the Essex women’s efforts, while the extras fail to flesh out the Equal Pay tale.