Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Saving Grace, Calendar Girls and now MADE IN DAGENHAM, director Nigel Cole proves that, with decent writing and a good cast, he can give us smart, topical, mainstream movies that will fill up American art cinemas -- at least for a week or two -- after which they will find their way to healthy ancillary profits. Cole's work gets better, film after film, and Dagenham is his best yet. This is a movie with a message that could hardly be more timely. It takes us back to pre-Thatcher England, when the Brits -- aw, screw it: the entire western world -- had a firmer grip on the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies, fair and unfair.
William Ivory (writer, mostly television), Sally Hawkins (star) and an exceptionally fine ensemble, each of whom captures his/her character in delightful and very specific fashion -- take an important piece of labor (and Labour Party) history and turn it into rabble-rousing (if sometimes a tad too convenient) life. What happened in Dagenham, the location of the British Ford plant, when its women workers wanted to be recognized as "skilled labor" who should earn something approaching the wages paid to men is the subject of the film, and it could hardly be more timely in many ways. The importance of unions -- when they actually serve the workers who fund them -- is something western nations need to remember just now, and the film offers up this message with surprise and sass.
Happy Go Lucky, and she makes the most of it: a relatively happy wife in a relatively typical marriage of that time period (the 1960s) who is thrust into the job of union representative and finds herself taking to it with relish and more. Hawkins combines humor, intelligence and vulner-ability with a strength that seems to come from deep within and which she can tap when needed -- but not without some pain. She has pretty much cornered the market for this brand of pretty, plucky womanhood, and Dagenham gives her another chance to shine.
Geraldine James (shown center, above, with Hoskins and Hawkins) brings complexity and grace to her role of the older union rep, while Andrea Riseborough (below) is funny and frank as the most "out-there" of the younger women.
Jamie Winstone (below) is sweet and winning as a Ford worker who want to model (and unfortunately gets her chance), while Rosamund Pike (two photos down, with dish) brings her elegance and class to one of the movie's most interesting roles: the wife of one of the Ford factory bosses.
Barbara Castle, played by Miranda Richardson in one of her rare, delightful modes (below, left: seen from back, with big bouffant). She, among all the politi-cians and government employees shown, is the only one who seems to possess brains and gumption, and in fact might have you thinking of what Margaret Thatcher could have accomplished for Britain and its people had she been in the least humane or progressive.
The movie, from Sony Pictures Classics, opens Friday, November 19, in New York City and Los Angeles -- and elsewhere soon.