“All over the country, women are getting less because they’re women”
I thought this would make an appropriate film review for International Women’s Day, it being a celebration of the sewing machinists whose ground-breaking 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant laid the basis for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, enshrining the right of equal pay for equal work. Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, written by William Ivory around the real life events, has been turned into a musical which will be opening at the end of the year, Gemma Arterton taking the lead role under Rupert Goold’s direction, but she has a lot to live up against the glorious Sally Hawkins and what is a rather lovely film.
It very much fits into the well-established working class Brit flick template – think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls… – in that it is never particularly challenging, it revels in period cliché and can definitely be described as heart-warming. But also like those films, it does have a little grit at its base, realism (of sorts) is allowed to temper the optimism that drives this huge moment of social change, the individual struggles of these women co-existing with the collective battle to great effect and backed by a super cast, it is frequently moving.
So we see Hawkins’ Rita growing hugely in confidence as she becomes the leader of the machinists fighting against being regarded as unskilled workers but we also see the strains it places on her home life, her relationship with husband Eddie is a thing of loveliness due to great chemistry with Daniel Mays and the inimitable charisma she always brings to her performances. Colleague Connie’s problems are more devastating, her husband dealing with what we would now call PTSD after being shot down in Essen in WWII and it is quietly distressing to watch the late Roger Lloyd Pack doing such affecting work.
Elsewhere there’s light relief in period details like Berni Inn’s being the height of sophistication and the exotic lure of real pineapple. And also in a set of great performances, Andrea Riseborough’s wonderfully self-possessed Brenda, Jaime Winstone’s would-be model, Bob Hoskins’ kindly union rep, Andrew Lincoln’s disciplinarian teacher, Joseph Kloska and Miles Jupp has a hapless parliamentary aide double act. It’s a shame we don’t get more of Miranda Richardson’s excellent Barbara Castle and Rosamund Pike is under-utilised as a neglected middle class wife of one of the managers.
But the whole adds up into something I really enjoyed, the clips of the actual women that end the film are a lovely touch and I whole-heartedly recommend giving it a watch. As for the musical, we’ll have to wait and see…!