Film Review: ''Made in Dagenham' is stirring drama

Sally Hawkins is Rita, a crusading plant worker, in 'Made in Dagenham' about a 1968 strike by female Ford machinists.

Sony Pictures Classics

Sally Hawkins is Rita, a crusading plant worker, in "Made in Dagenham" about a 1968 strike by female Ford machinists.

Sally Hawkins isn't built like Rosie the Riveter, but the skinny acting Atlas is more than capable of carrying the feminist labor drama "Made in Dagenham" on her fragile-looking shoulders.

A sort of British "Norma Rae," this true-life-inspired tale of the female Ford machinists whose 1968 strike for equal pay and an end to sexual discrimination is formulaic and corny (without Mom around, Daddy burns dinner!), but it's also thoroughly entertaining and even stirring as it follows Rita O'Grady (Hawkins) and her factory "sisters" from their working-class suburb to the London front pages and even the corridors of parliamentary power.

Based on the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, in which 850 female workers walked out in protest of sexual discrimination.

Rating: R for language and brief sexuality

Length: 113 minutes

Released: November 19, 2010 NY/LA

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Richard Schiff

Director: Nigel Cole

Writer: Billy Ivory

More info and showtimes »

Directed by Nigel Cole (and a big improvement over his previous pond-crossing Britcom hits, "Saving Grace" and "Calendar Girls"), "Dagenham" is not unlike a civil rights/race relations movie: It flatters the audience for being "progressive" enough to be outraged by the injustices of the past. Even so, it's not irrelevant: When a potentate proclaims that "industry cannot afford to pay women the same rates as men. ... If it is forced to, it will collapse," we realize these are the same lies "industry" tells now to deny health benefits and wage increases.

The movie benefits from its retro fashions (beehive hairdos, hot pants), Brit slang ("Cheeky sod!") and vintage soundtrack (Sam the Sham, Desmond Dekker), but especially from its cast. Supporting actors include Hawkins' fellow "Vera Drake" alumnus, Daniel Mays, as Rita's husband; Bob Hoskins as a bulldog floor boss; and Rosamund Pike as a glamorous newfound friend.

"Made in Dagenham" is exclusively at Malco's Forest Hill 8.

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