October 21, 2010

What she watched: Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham is a dramatisation of the 1968 strike by women workers at Ford's Dagenham (UK) plant which led to the Equal Pay Act. It's a heartfelt, heartwarming, Full Monty of a film which left most of the (full) cinema smiling.

The movie captures the feeling of working class England in the late 60s well. Peppered amongst the scenes of the women picketing the factory, taking their protest on the road to other Ford factories and garnering media attention for their cause are snippets from the characters' private lives - mums' run-ins with bullying teachers, husbands suffering from post-traumatic stress after WWII, the girl who aspires to be the next Twiggy. While some of these kitchen drama scenes add to the film's themes, others seem to have been included for 'awww' value (in particular, the repeated references by the women about each other's clothes really started to annoy me).

For me, the most interesting aspect of Made in Dagenham is its critical look at the union 'boys' club' at the time, particularly the men at the top and their complicity in the continued discrimination against female workers (in the interests of the greater population of male workers).* As a longtime union member, this was a side of unionism I'd not considered before, and a poignant reminder of how hard women have had to fight to realise something approaching equality, even amongst those who claim to support us.

As the movie's postscript tells us, two years after the women's dispute was resolved by MP Barbara Castle (played in true Queenie style by the lovely Mirada Richardson) the UK's Equal Pay Act was established. What isn't mentioned is the fact that, 40 years later, women are still paid less than men, which seemed like either an odd oversight by the filmmakers, or a deliberate omission so as not to interfere with the movie's happy ending...I don't know which is worse.

I leave you with some inspiration from Brother Billy



*That said, Mr Fantapants felt that dividing the men in the film into two camps - evil-doers (the union heavies, Ford management) and bumbling fools (the lead character's husband, the female MP's parliamentary secretaries) - was one of the film's weak points. In fact, the only male character who comes off with any balance is the factory's union rep (played by Bob Hoskins, natch), whose desire to see the women workers treated equally is explained by the fact that his mum was a single parent.

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