You might worry where all this populism is heading: it’s not exactly ‘Carry On Cortina’, but when an early scene give us a room full of workers stripping down to their bras to combat the heat, and Bob Hoskins enters the shopfloor covering his eyes in mock shame, you half expect to see Bernard Bresslaw pinching Hattie Jacques’s bottom. But don’t be put off. Mostly, the film sticks with the story at its heart, moulding and tempering it with comedy and the odd heartbreak. It’s about as political as the women it portrays, who became activists almost by accident alongside their everyday lives. Billy Ivory’s script is compassionate, a little overloaded with sub-plots and not always subtle, but often moving and good on the detail of professional and family camaraderie and their flipsides: antagonism and resentment.
The main thrust of the film is the gradual, reluctant politicisation of Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), a fictional composite of various women. Her fellow workers decide that Rita, a quiet woman, married to fellow Ford worker Eddie (Daniel Mays) and mother of two kids, should represent them with their bosses. Events take over, and the next thing we know Rita is addressing the TUC and marching on Parliament. Somehow this convinces, and it’s down to Hawkins, who is excellent at conveying Rita’s growing confidence and new awareness of her cause. She is the film’s anchor. Her performance is serious but fun, see-sawing between boldness and trepidation.
‘Made in Dagenham’ balances a broad tone with a keen eye for domestic and workplace politics. Its attention span is limited as it wanders off down romantic, comic or tragic byways, some of them, such as the story of Connie (Geraldine James) and her depressed husband, George (Roger Lloyd-Pack), more successful than others – such as an awkward scene involving aspiring model Sandra (Jaime Winstone) and a David Bailey-like snapper (Matt King). Politically it’s light, but its mission is honest. It highlights an important episode in a style that you imagine would appeal to the same women it honours.