Sunday, April 3, 2011

A good movie is hard to find

A good movie is hard to find, but recently we found one we liked. Made in Dagenham is about a 1968 strike of Ford seamsters - no, not Teamsters - that led to pay equity legislation in Great Britain. The women machinists, who sewed the upholstery for automobiles, were classified as "unskilled" workers. These women fought a double battle, against both management and male officials and leaders in the trade union movement who were as much against equal pay for work of equal value as Ford (then) was.

This well-written, well-acted movie educates viewers gently while making them laugh. (I had a little trouble with their accent at first, oddly enough, because I had no difficulty with the Yorkshire accent in The Full Monty.) The fashions and music of the late 1960s took me back to my youth. The central character, Rita O'Grady, is fictional, not based on a real person. (Norma Rae, the lead character of a similar movie also well worth seeing, was based on an actual American textile factory worker.) Rita O'Grady, played by Sally Hawkins, is a composite character.

Bob Hoskins plays a union representative in the factory. It is touching to hear him tell Rita that he supports her and the other women because of personal experience. His mother was the sole support of her family in a factory job where she got half what men earned for the same work.

Barbara Castle, the minister of labour in Harold Wilson's administration, is amusingly portrayed by Miranda Richardson. Her meeting with the strike leaders is one of the best parts.

Also amusing is the bit where a union leader, opposed to pay equity, quotes something that Marx said about "Man..." Marx was a product of his time, as we all are, and, writing in the 19th century, used "man" as a synonym for "person", but the union leader took the term literally to mean man but not woman. (Inclusive language does matter!) The Bob Hoskins character quotes Marx right back at him, to the effect that the progress of a society can be measured by the progress of its women.

The movie doesn't make light of the short term sacrifices involved in winning long term objectives. It excels in showing how ordinary people without much self-confidence can take on a challenge and grow into effective leaders.

It's a treat to find a movie that is about something.

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