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At The Movies: Made In Dagenham

2010 October 27

Image: Illustration of some of the characters from Made In Dagenham, showing giggling, happy women alongside a sober Miranda Richardson

“A film that calls itself feminist?” I said, looking up from my morning internet. “Well, that makes me suspicious from the START.” I said this, because it did. I’m always a bit cautious about Feminist Films. For every one that’s dead on, intelligent and insightful, there’s one that’s the embarassing uncle at the party who asks you all about your love life in inappropriate detail and then tries on all your shoes.

Anyway, I watched the trailer, and my heart sank even further. No, really! It literally did. I became extremely afraid that, with a film made, all feelgood and by the same people who did Calendar Girls, it’d fictionalise the ongoing struggle for equality in the workplace and make it seem, well, like the battle was fought and won, and like we have nothing left to strive for. Which, of course, we do.

So you see my trouble here.

But, as with all films when I can feel my rage glands engorging with fluid before I’ve even laid eyeball to celluloid, I chastised myself for being a judgemental prick, and went to see it anyway. I trotted into the darkness, full of hope and tea. The cinema was full of middle-aged women all talking about exciting and intelligent things (the couple next to me were discussing Wagner) so I felt, as a 20-something bleach-blond chap in skin-tight jeans, somewhat out of place.

On came the film, and dear god, I wished that there could have been more people my age watching in that audience. I mean, I totally get it. I understand why all the ladies of that generation were there – that was their time and their history. But it’s our history too, and a very vicious and triumphant reminder of the battles fought and the ground yet to be covered. The dynamics shown there, right there on the screen, are things we still have to deal with every day. There are still men who think that they’re meant to be the prime breadwinners. There are still women who won’t speak up about what they think or believe because they assume that they’re wrong because a man will know better. That shit still happens.

So yeah, basically all my fears were allayed with one toss of Miranda Richardson’s head. This is not a film about feminism – this is a film about gender politics that has feminism firmly in mind. It is not merely observant of its subject matter, it understands it. And that’s a delicious and refreshing thing in a time of Sarah Palin’s “Pro-Life Feminism” and other such horrors.

Let me give you an example. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s an argument in the film between a married couple, and the man extols his virtues as a “good husband” by saying that he’s never hit his wife or children, and that he gets involved with his kids and looks after them. The wife stares and hisses, “And that’s as it should be. It’s not privilege, it’s simple, basic rights.

And then I cried! Burst into tears right there in the cinema. It doesn’t take much to make me get the waterworks out at a film, but that got me right there. Basic fucking rights. And people still don’t understand that. Still! And this is 2010!

The characters in this are sublime – immediately engaging and empathic – and Connie (Geraldine James) is by far my favourite. You’ll understand if you’ve seen it, or when you do see it – she’s so viscerally human, her torment and psyche so completely, perfectly explicable that I felt like I knew her, like she lived round the corner from me and I saw her for tea every Saturday afternoon. These are real stories about real women, and it’s a lovely touch that they get the actual Dagenham strikers talking about their own experiences at the credits. It feels very concrete and real – which, of course, it is – but it certainly doesn’t feel saccarine or fictional, which is what I’d feared.

I’m now trying to think of The Stand-Out Moment of this film, but there’s so many, I don’t know where to start! A good thing, right? Well, from a personal bent, the stand-out holy-shit-I-identify-with-this moment for me was the best-ever male-ally speech (you’ll know it when you see it!) from a man who said that he was raised by his mother, who was the prime breadwinner, but on so much less than her male counterparts despite doing the same work, if not more.

Let me tell you a little personal thing: I was raised primarily by my absolute saint of a mother, who is paid two-thirds of what her male counterparts get, despite actually doing more than them. She is labelled a “part-time worker”, because she may at any point become pregnant and leave her job to have babies, because she’s a woman. My mum is 50. AND THIS IS 2010. This struggle is current! This is happening right now! Equal Pay Act or no Equal Pay Act, there is still inequality in the workplace and in society at large that makes it seem okay and “normal” to treat women like they’re second class goddamn citizens.

So there I was, steaming in my seat, tumescent and tremulous with the wrath of social injustice, but really having an amazing cinematic experience. Oh – another cool thing: the film is colour-treated so that it resembles vintage Sixties film. It’s not overdone – just a little desaturation and colour work – but just enough to evoke the televisual “feel” of the era. It really works. Loved it.

Naturally, as a nit-picking little bastard who isn’t happy until he’s poked seventeen holes in a thing, I found something to grumble about after all. Hooray! Okay – get this: at the end of the film, you’ve got vintage footage of the actual strikers. They’re all middle-aged and big. Well, certainly bigger than the younger, sexy ladies they’ve got to play their roles in the actual film. They’ve been sexed up. Oh god. What’s right about that? Are the Lords and Ladies Cinema esquire really saying that we, as audience members, cannot possibly empathise with our lead characters unless they’re stereotypically easy on the eye?

I raised this point through a mouthful of curry at my friends after the film. One of them suggested that this could be a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers to combat the stereotype that women who fight for women’s rights are unattractive craggy battleaxes, and I think I’m okay with that. Well, okay-er with that. Chewing out that horrible stereotype is always a win in my book. That said, I’m a big fan of craggy old battleaxes. Long live the battleaxe!

Overall, it’s a good film. It’s inspiring, it’s moving, and it’s satisfying like when you add an entire pot of double cream to a pasta sauce. Super.


  • It cares about its subject matter
  • The acting is superb
  • The characterisation is believable, genuine and engaging
  • It’s gorgeous
  • The speeches given make you want to go out and fight the world in the face


  • There is an abominable pair of hotpants in it
3 Responses leave one →
  1. Hodge permalink
    October 27, 2010

    I really liked this film too. Although I do wonder if it’s ever possible to make a film like this without doing the sort of ‘…AND THEN EVERYTHING WAS OK FOREVER THE END’ by way of conclusion. I suppose I was pretty near convinced this film didn’t fall into that trap too badly, but it was still a lurking spectre….

  2. Michael S permalink
    October 27, 2010


    Apparently they give an individual credit to *all* the musicians on the score – it’s pretty much unheard of (even the orchestral contractor is often missed off) and shows a degree of respect for a group of workers in film who’re often overlooked.


    I know even full time Union Officials who thought the film was great and showed sensitivity for the subject matter.

    (Ok, I admit I’m biased on both these points)

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