Rating: 4 out of 5
This engaging, warm British comedy-drama not only features extremely vivid characters but also traces the real events that led to the law requiring equal pay for women. And it's also a lot of fun.
In 1968, Rita (Hawkins) works in the Ford plant in Dagenham. She quickly rises to a leadership role on the shopfloor where 187 women work on upholstery. But they earn a fraction of their male counterparts' wages, and their jobs are being reclassified as "unskilled". So Rita and her colleagues (including James, Winstone and Riseborough) team up with their union rep (Hoskins) to demand equality from the Ford execs (including Graves and Schiff). But their strike action has repercussions, catching the attention of government minister Barbara Castle (Richardson).
While there are some intensely strong scenes, the real story of course was surely a lot more raw than this. Sure, there are waves of emotion, some intense conflicts and extremely big personalities, but director Cole keeps this in the vein of his 2003 feel-good hit Calendar Girls rather than going down the gritty Norma Rae route. And while this opens the film up to accusations of softening and even dumbing-down the story, it also makes it much more accessible.
This approach also plays right to Hawkins' strengths as an actress who combines chirpy optimism with a steely undercurrent. She's terrific as a woman who doubts her own strengths but knows she has no other choice. Her firm belief in her cause makes the clashes with her husband, beautifully played by Mays, extremely realistic. And Pike is also excellent as a sharp professional woman who gave up her dreams for an idealised marriage. And then Richardson storms in and steals the show, channelling Margaret Thatcher to hilarious effect as the feisty Castle.
Along the way, the film is packed with telling moments that make it essential viewing, most notably in the way these arrogant men underestimate the power, intelligence and resilience of the women. They're not afraid to speak the truth in a society that has made an industry of deliberately ignoring it, and by going on strike they shake the sexist British establishment to the core. And rightly so. Because in the end this isn't about money, it's the principle.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 113 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st October 2010
Box Office USA: $1.1M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Audley Films LLP, BBC Films, BMS Finance, HanWay Films, Lipsync Productions, Number 9 Films, UK Film Council
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 99 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Nigel Cole
Screenwriter: Billy Ivory
Starring: Sally Hawkins as Rita O'Grady, Bob Hoskins as Albert Passingham, Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle, Geraldine James as Connie, Simon Nehan as Welsh Union man, Andrea Riseborough as Brenda, Jaime Winstone as Sandra, Lorraine Stanley as Monica, Nicola Duffett as Eileen, Matthew Aubrey as Brian, Daniel Mays as Eddie O'Grady, Roger Lloyd-Pack as George, Phil Cornwell as Dave, Karen Seacombe as Marge, Thomas Arnold as Martin, Sian Scott as Sharon O'Grady, Robbie Kay as Graham O'Grady, Rosamund Pike as Lisa Hopkins