Working Chicks of the World Unite! And get yourselves down to the cinema. You’ve probably never heard of a woman named Rita O’Grady or the town of Dagenham, but if you are making a decent living as a woman, you owe her and her motley group of sisters a huge “thank you.” Made in Dagenham is a wonderful little film about a very important moment in women’s history. It is based on the true story of the ladies who sewed seat covers for Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, England in 1968, and fought to get equal pay for equal work. And yes, it is sort of a British Norma Rae, but it is much more fun.
The catalyst for their action is when Ford downgrades their status to “non-skilled” machinists and their pay grade with it. This insult moves them to strike and ultimately to begin a movement for equal pay for women in all jobs. At the center of it is Rita O’Grady, a regular woman who becomes extraordinary as their accidental leader. When she takes the women on strike, it reverberates across the company and ultimately shuts down the whole operation. You can’t make cars without seats after all. And before you know it, Henry Ford II himself is on the horn with the Prime Minister trying to strong-arm him into forcing the girls back to work.
But (un)fortunately the PM has appointed a woman as Employment Secretary and she is more than willing to hear out the women on the issue. By the end the women get what they asked for and England has an Equal Pay law that the rest of the Western world soon follows.
Sally Hawkins is wonderful playing Rita, a very ordinary working class woman who stands up for what is right. Miranda Richardson is just right as the “girl in the boys club” Secretary Castle who also has to fight against the men’s blatant sexism of the time in her high position. And Bob Hoskins is perfect as the ladies’ very sympathetic union rep who is on their side from the beginning because as he explains, he was raised by a single mom and understands how hard it is to make a living when you’re paid half what the men make for the same work.
Unlike Norma Rae, Made in Dagenham is visually engaging with its 60s hairstyles, mod clothes and breezy pop music. One of the factory girls even shows up one day to work in the newest style – hot pants! The women are a diverse and fun and the story while “important” is interwoven with their personal lives and struggles. At the end, it is a total feel good movie. I recommend it for every kind of chick out there.
(***SOAP BOX***) I am still amazed that it was only 40 years ago that women were treated so much like second class citizens. I think that is part of the attraction of movies like this and television shows like Mad Men. Sure we still haven’t totally gotten to “equal” but when you watch movies like this, you count your lucky stars.
(Warning – You may not understand every word because cause some of those chicks have really strong accents. I think you will enjoy it immensely nonetheless. )