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Reaffirmative Action

Made in Dagenham (2010)

Susie Allnutt/Sony Pictures Classics

“Made in Dagenham” seems to be the British “Norma Rae.” Aside from their common thematic and period details, both draw from real-life inspirations and feature star-making turns from lead actresses named Sally. Unfortunately for “Dagenham,” it’s been 31 years since “Norma Rae” and this type of feel-good story about workers united for gender equality seems almost trite. As we know, affirmative action hasn’t entirely closed the gap between the sexes even three decades later.

In 1968, female workers at the Ford plant in the titular town went on strike to demand equal pay. Sally Hawkins — best known for her turn in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” — plays Rita O’Grady, married mother of two who became the face of the equal pay movement at Ford almost by accident. Union rep Albert (Bob Hoskins, playing Ron Leibman to Ms. Hawkins’s Sally Field) plucked her out without hesitation from amongst the motley crew of dour frumps and Amy Winehouse-lites – or were they Deee-Lites? It turned out that Rita was as chipper as Ms. Hawkins seems, and ultimately overcame formidable obstacles such as an unsupportive spouse (Daniel Mays) and dissensions among the ranks of her sister strikers.

The film actually significantly improves upon director Nigel Cole’s previous efforts such as “Calendar Girls,” which is itself fact-based. His pedestrian TV aesthetics have gradually evolved. Unfortunately, the story is just so predictable that there’s little dramatic tension to speak of. Its only redeeming quality is the outstanding cast, with always-pleasurable-to-watch actors such as Mr. Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. Ms. Hawkins, though, truly shines in scenes that call for her character to buck up and show some spine. She’s here proven that in addition to playing chummy convincingly, she also possesses range. “Made in Dagenham” is a pleasant experience overall, but it neither captures that defining moment of four decades ago nor has the potential to be a difference-maker in our own time.


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