Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham
  • Country of production: UK / Ireland
  • Year: 2010
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Nigel Coles
  • Running time: 113 minutes
  • Official website:

Made in Dagenham is a rousing comedy-drama based on a women's strike at the Ford car plant in Dagenham, east London, in 1968. SALLY HAWKINS leads a strong British cast, including BOB HOSKINS, MIRANDA RICHARDSON, GERALDINE JAMES and ROSAMUND PIKE, in charting the women's ground-breaking fight to achieve equal pay. It is a colourful, well-crafted dramatisation of history in the making, ‘more entertaining than earnest' and ‘heart-warming, inspiring and funny' (Grazia).

While the vast Dagenham factory employed 55,000 men, 187 women sewed car seats in a dilapidated building that let in rain and was swelteringly hot in summer. The women labouring in these conditions objected to being classed as ‘unskilled' when their work was more demanding than many of the men's.

The idea for the film came from a Radio 4 programme called The Reunion, in which some of the former sewing machinists came together to discuss the strike. Producer Stephen Woolley decided to use several of their stories to create one central character, Rita (Sally Hawkins), who, much to her own surprise, becomes the strikers' leader. She discovers qualities she didn't know she had as she takes on both her union and the American corporate giant, coping with male hostility and the fallout on her family life in the process.

"She may be a fictionalised amalgam of several real people but we have kept true to the events," says Woolley. These include an infamous incident in which a banner the women were holding that read "We want sex equality" provoked an unexpectedly enthusiastic response because it was not fully unfurled so the word "equality" was not visible.

The strike sparked a huge crisis. Barbara Castle, who was Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson's government, got involved and the women found themselves the focus of national attention. The Equal Pay Act of 1970, which was followed by similar laws throughout the world, came into being as a direct result of the strike.

The film has been praised for the authenticity of its depiction of factory conditions and life at the time. It was shot on the housing estate next to the Dagenham plant and, because the factory itself had been demolished, at an old Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, which has itself now closed down. Around 50 local Merthyr women were hired as extras for the factory scenes and came to London for the protest scenes too.


Made in Dagenham


‘It is the type of film that could have been made by Ealing Studios back in the 1950s (you could just imagine Peter Sellers in a lead role), and with its shrewd balance of top-notch performers, a series of stirring speeches, terrific production design and costumes, and some smart comedy moments you have a film that hits its marks at pretty much every turn.'


Made in Dagenham is cast from the same mould as director Nigel Cole's previous true-life-story success, Calendar Girls (2003), which was also about a group of women joining forces, albeit in that case posh ones who posed nude. But it more naturally belongs to the class of comedies about the resourcefulness of working-class underdogs, such as The Full Monty (1997) and Billy Elliot (2000).

In fact it resembles the prototypes of working-class drama from the 1950s and 1960s more closely still. It captures the ordinariness of working-class life, in what were simpler times, as many films of that period had set out to. Scenes of smiling workers arriving at the factory on bicycles are reminiscent of Peter Collinson's Up the Junction (1968), for example. The pixie-like Sally Hawkins, who plays the lead role, also brings to mind Rita Tushingham, an icon of 1960s British film.

Woolley bullish

The refinement is that Made in Dagenham sets out primarily and unashamedly to entertain. "We're making a film, not a documentary," said producer Stephen Woolley. With that in mind, there is a strong focus on domestic dramas behind the headlines.

In keeping with the film's uplifting story, it has been given a distinctive "bright and summery" look, Woolley explains. While the women display true grit, the film is not gritty, as Kate Stables put it in Sight & Sound.

The film successfully depicts the 1960s as a crossroads of different eras, that of the war generation and the "swinging 60s". This is apparent in one scene at a social club when older people who have gathered around a piano to sing "My Old Man" after a fuse blows in the PA system are drowned out when the power returns and ‘Wooly Bully' blasts out. Knowing touches in the script display the unaffectedness of the time (a trip to a Berni Inn is a treat - "snazzy" - and, upon being told that a dress is Biba, "Is it? Well, it's still gorgeous").

The film is also ‘startling in its pitch-perfect recreation of the era's ingrained sexism' (Kate Stables, Sight & Sound). This context is established at the outset, with clips of contemporary advertisements for new cars featuring women draped over the men driving them. It's not just the strikers but also the Ford plant manager's wife and even Barbara Castle that are patronised by men and not expected to voice opinions.

Living in a patriarchal world means the women don't initially think they can change things. Sally Hawkins's performance as Rita is key to conveying the shift in their expectations. She is subdued at first but her voice becomes louder and less faltering as the women make their case.

Serena Allott in The Daily Telegraph saw Sally Hawkins on set where she was as ‘tense and alert as a frightened deer', but described her performance as ‘luminescent'. She appears feisty yet also afraid of the speed with which she is breaking through barriers that previously constrained her.

Sally Field won an Oscar in 1980 playing a reluctant union activist in Martin Ritt's Norma Rae and Ray Bennett in The Hollywood Reporter predicted that history could be repeated with Sally Hawkins.

Daniel Mays is also ‘excellent' (Justin Chang, Variety) in the role of Rita's husband, Eddie. He epitomises a man who is unequipped to cope with the loss of his role as "breadwinner" and feels emasculated and slighted. As Rita's involvement with the strike deepens, his initial easygoing support gives way to surliness.

Rolled off the ensemble line

The women's solidarity is central to the film's feelgood nature. They approach obstacles (including their own discomfort at striking) with spirit and good humour and the story is told with a wink and a smile.

Glowing performances all round contribute to this esprit de corps. Kaleem Aftab in The Independent singled out Bob Hoskins's warm performance, ‘conducted with a ‘twinkle in his eye', and Mark Adams wrote in Screen International that Rosamund Pike's was also ‘striking' (with any pun presumably deliberate).


Made in Dagenham



Distinctive for her expressive features and a screen manner that combines good-humoured openness with perceptiveness, Sally Hawkins is one of the UK's most appealing young actors. She had appeared mainly in stage productions when Mike Leigh cast her in All or Nothing (2002). It was the beginning of an enduring working relationship with the director, who then used her in Vera Drake (2004) and Happy-Go-Lucky (2008); her central role as Poppy in the latter netted her a Golden Globe and several other awards. She has also appeared in Layer Cake (2004), Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream (2007) and several TV series, notably period dramas Tipping the Velvet (2002), Fingersmith (2005) and Persuasion (2007). She will soon be seen in the Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation Never Let Me Go and as Northern Irish political figure Bernadette Devlin in The Roaring Girl.



Sometimes gruff, sometimes put-upon, rarely concealing a romantic streak a mile wide, Bob Hoskins's performances have made him a British national treasure. He established his career on stage in the 1960s and on television in the 1970s, including several appearances in Play for Today and the lead in Dennis Potter's landmark series Pennies from Heaven (1978). The sweet naivety of that role did little to prepare people for the bullish bravado he brought to his sensational turn as underworld boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday two years later. A string of great British films followed, notably Mona Lisa (1986), which won him a Golden Globe, a Bafta and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and A Room for Romeo Brass (1999), although some, such as Outlaw (2007), misfired. A Hollywood career similarly ranged from the esteemed (1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1995's Nixon) to the forgettable (1993's Super Mario Bros, 2006's Garfield 2). Some of his strongest recent work has been back on the small screen, including a powerful role in The Street last year.



Geraldine James rose to prominence with roles in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) and ITV's The Jewel in the Crown (1984), the latter garnering one of her four Bafta TV nominations. Other film credits include The Tall Guy (1989), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) and Calendar Girls (2003), as well as recent roles in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010). Her body of TV work is substantial and includes The History Man (1981), Blott on the Landscape (1985), Band of Gold (1995-7), The Sins (2000), White Teeth (2002), The Time of Your Life (2009) and Little Britain. She was awarded an OBE in 2003 and will be seen in the forthcoming remake of Arthur, starring Russell Brand.


Miranda Richardson

Miranda Richardson has a unique ability to play fearsome, beautiful, sometimes also comedic characters. After establishing a successful stage career and taking a few TV roles, she made a devastating big-screen debut playing the convicted killer and last woman to be executed in the UK, Ruth Ellis, in Dance with a Stranger (1985). Richardson was soon afterwards seen in what might still be her signature role, as the impetuous "Queenie" Elizabeth I in Blackadder II (1986), and then in Spielberg's Empire of the Sun (1987). She has continued to alternate between media. Strong TV work includes A Dance to the Music of Time (1997) and Poliakoff's The Lost Prince (2003) while big-screen productions include The Crying Game (1992), Damage (1992), Tom & Viv (1994), The Hours (2002) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). She will also be in the final two Harry Potter films.



After youth theatre work in her native north-east, Andrea Riseborough attended Rada and, after graduating in 2005, secured a number of prominent roles on stage and in television productions including Party Animals (2007) and The Devil's Whore (2008). Her starring role as Margaret Thatcher in Channel 4's The Long Walk to Finchley (2008) earned her a Bafta nomination. Films she has appeared in include Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and she will soon be seen starring alongside Helen Mirren and John Hurt in the new film of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.



After acting for the National Youth Theatre and while still at Oxford University, Rosamund Pike had several TV parts, including A Rather English Marriage (1998), Wives and Daughters (1999) and Love in a Cold Climate (2001). After appearing as Bond girl Miranda Frost in 2002's Die Another Day, she went on to roles in The Libertine (2004) with Johnny Depp, in Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice (2005) and in the video-game adaptation Doom (2005). More recently she appeared in An Education (2009).



Like Sally Hawkins, Daniel Mays worked with Mike Leigh on All or Nothing (2002) and Vera Drake (2004). He also appeared in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor (2001), Ridley Scott's A Good Year (2006) and Joe Wright's Atonement (2007). His television roles include Funland (2005), Red Riding (2009) and Ashes to Ashes (2010). Coming up is a role in Steven Spielberg's Tintin movie, due for release next year.



After eye-catching roles in contemporary urban dramas Bullet Boy (2004) and Kidulthood (2006), Jaime Winstone - daughter of actor Ray Winstone - took a leading role in the Mediterranean-set horror thriller Donkey Punch (2008). She also appeared in Charlie Brooker's Channel 4 zombie reality-TV spoof Dead Set (2008).



John Sessions established himself as an improv comic and theatre performer in the 1980s, achieving national prominence on television comedy series, including Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Stella Street, which showcased his celebrity impressions. On the big screen, he has appeared in The Merchant of Venice (2004) and The Last Station (2009), among many others.



With a career stretching back over four decades, Kenneth Cranham is a familiar figure, often cast as an avuncular character with a menacing edge. His small-screen credits reach from Z Cars (1970) to a starring role in the '80s series Shine On Harvey Moon and parts in El C.I.D. (1990-92) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (2008). Cinema credits include Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Gangster No. 1 (2000) and Valkyrie (2008).


Richard Schiff

American-born actor Richard Schiff has had an extensive career in theatre, film and television and is revered by fans of The West Wing, where he played Toby Ziegler. Small roles in the likes of Speed (1994) and Se7en (1995) led to bigger roles in films such as City Hall (1996) and Ray (2004) and TV shows including NYPD Blue and Ally McBeal. He recently starred with Omad Djalili in The Infidel (2010). He has also directed episodes of The West Wing and HBO's In Treatment.



Roger Lloyd Pack will always be associated with his role as the iconically dense Trigger in BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses; his numerous other TV roles include Owen in The Vicar of Dibley as well as performances in Doctor Who, The Old Guys and Longitude. On the big screen, he was in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover (1989), Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).



Recently seen as Detective Inspector Lestrade in BBC1's Sherlock, Rupert Graves first achieved fame in the period drama A Room with a View (1985). Roles in Maurice (1987) and A Handful of Dust (1988) followed and he has also appeared in The Madness of King George (1994) and V for Vendetta (2006). TV credits include Charles II (2003) and Clapham Junction (2007) and he has also had a successful theatre career.


Director Nigel Cole

After television work including Peak Practice, Cold Feet and wildlife documentaries filmed with Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Richard Dreyfuss, director Nigel Cole made his feature debut with Saving Grace (2000), starring Brenda Blethyn as an unwitting cannabis dealer. That was followed by the Women's Institute-themed ensemble comedy Calendar Girls (2003), romcom A Lot Like Love (2005) and father-and-son comedy $5 a Day (2008), starring Christopher Walken. He is currently shooting Rafta Rafta, a comedy about a British Indian couple in northern England.


Made in Dagenham

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