LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A film recalling how a group of female factory workers took on the might of the Ford car company in 1968 to demand equal rights opens in Britain this week with strong reviews to recommend it.
“Made in Dagenham” is directed by Nigel Cole, who had success with “Calendar Girls,” another take on female empowerment.
Sally Hawkins plays the central role of Rita, a mild-mannered machinist who challenges management policy of paying women less than men and begins to attract the attention of the country’s media and leading politicians.
The strike brought production at Ford’s Dagenham plant to a standstill and eventually earned the women better, though not equal pay. It was, according to some experts, also instrumental in getting the Equal Pay Act of 1970 passed in parliament.
For Hawkins, the story was partly a tribute to the courage of the women prepared to risk the ire of their employers and co-workers to gain sexual equality in the workplace.
“I think it will always be a fight that needs to be fought, sadly,” she told Reuters at the recent premiere.
“But I think we’ve come such a long way, when you look back at very recent history, history you can almost touch and people in our own lifetime remember.
“When you think back to what they had to put up with ... you think, well, where would we be without them really.”
But, like Hawkins, co-star Rosamund Pike argued that true equality was still elusive.
“For whatever reason, we are still paid less and it is a fight worth fighting for,” she said.
Bob Hoskins, who portrays the genial union representative, said he remembered media coverage of the events more than 40 years ago.
“Back in ‘68 I remember reading the newspaper on page five and a little article — it was about these women going on strike for equal pay in Dagenham,” he told Reuters.
“I thought, hang on a minute, this should be front page news but it never was. You know, it was just outrageous.”
Director Cole was asked whether any of the women involved in the original protests had seen the movie.
“They have and we were very scared,” he said.
“It’s a big moment, but I’m pleased to say they loved it. They felt that we’d captured their sense of humor. We also managed to tell their story in a way they recognized.”
Reviews of the film, which hits theatres on October 1, have been generally good.
“Made In Dagenham is a nicely crafted battle of the sexes film that should find a welcoming audience,” wrote Mark Adams for Screen International.
Hollywood Reporter’s Ray Bennett believed Hawkins could be in the running for major awards for her performance.
“Sally Field won an Oscar in 1979 playing a reluctant union activist in Martin Ritt’s ‘Norma Rae’, and history might repeat itself with Sally Hawkins as Rita O’Grady,” he said.
Additional reporting and writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison