It starts off lighthearted, with a crowd of women bicycling from work. They party, dance the Watusi with their husbands, and break the day-to-day grind and industrial roar of their sewing machines with joking cat-calls aimed at male coworkers. Made in Dagenham is a dramatization about the sewing machinists strike at Ford’s Dagenham plant in England, which led to the passing of the British Equal Pay Act, and to the eventual passing of similar legislation around the world. Sally Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady, the strong-willed, soft-spoken machinist who led the women to strike for equality despite pressure from their husbands, their union and their political representatives. It’s a purely feminist film that feels like a combination of Milk and Mad Men—an honest look at the role of women in the ’60s, working overtime, cooking supper, fighting for civil rights and getting the kids off to school while their husbands sleep on the couch. It’s a film that blatantly condemns sexism and shows, despite its mostly light tone, the real cost of fighting for civil rights. The bee-hived and bobbed characters are fully fleshed and well-rounded even though they fit into ’60s archetypes, and the period piece balances optimism and realism in a way that’s both compelling and fun to watch.
Made in Dagenham premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11th, with a second screening on September 12.