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Monday, 17 January 2011

Made In Dagenham - Etched In Laughter - Viewed With Love

Made in Britain –Viewed in Israel!

 Article first published as “Made In Dagenham - Etched In Laughter - Viewed With Love” on Technorati.

It’s really not fair! When a film like The King’s Speech gobbles all the publicity, smaller but equally worthy dramas get kicked aside and forgotten.

Indeed, I had no idea that this gem of a film had been made, let alone released, until one of my Anglo friends told me that it had made its way to Israel.

Made.In.DagenhamWhat’s more, ‘injustice’- and how to overcome it - is the main theme of Made In Dagenham and when I viewed it during the weekend at the suitably downscale, offbeat ‘Cinematheque’, in Rosh Pina, I became every bit involved  as the first time I saw Calendar Girls (also directed by Nigel Cole) and  An Education, another brilliant movie depicting 1960s Britain.

Dismissed by one inane critic  as a ‘docu-drama’,  Made In Dagenham is a vividly engaging  account of early attempts by British women to smash the glass ceiling at work and an earthy illustration of the rear-side of the “Swinging Sixties” when entrenched male attitudes meant women were still supposed to be grateful if their men didn’t hit them, even as they treated them as fools.

Miranda_Richardson(Barbara.castle_21785Billy Ivory’s sharp and funny screenplay gives us a dramatised account of the 1968 strike by women machinists at  Ford Cars’ U.K. plant in Dagenham, Essex where a fictitious Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) leads the girls off the ghastly factory floor, out on strike and then on to Westminster where they meet real-life Employment Minister, Barbara Castle, played superbly by Miranda Richardson.

Mrs Castle helped them to achieve a pay rise bringing them 92% of what the men received, but not before they had closed down the entire plant and reduced themselves and their families to dire poverty.

The continuing importance of this win – and so the film – is that Mrs Castle engineered the Equal Pay Act 1970.  Now, more than 40 years later,  British men are fighting for equal paternity leave after their wives give birth.

Barbara CastleI met Mrs Castle a couple of times after she’d left national office, became a Euro M.P. and represented two different areas of Greater Manchester. At the time she was the only British MEP to have held a Cabinet position.

I’ve read an interview with Miranda Richardson about her role and realise that she worked incredibly hard to evoke the face, voice and character of a person whom she never knew.

I can tell her that as an extraordinarily gifted person in her own field, Castle was also  a deeply complex and immeasurably difficult personality. Certainly she was nowhere near as “nice” as the engaging woman, happy to gossip about fashion, we see on screen.

Indeed, she once  gave a recorded interview to someone I knew and then denied the contents in public. The incident was handled ineptly and with great ill-temper as the journalist involved did not have the wit to understand what had  happened.  Mrs Castle – also a former journalist - was her own best publicity machine and knew that to deny a story was the best way to maximise it. It had no bearing, as was claimed later, on anything any Opposition M.P. may have said or done.

Psychologically, the  incident was probably among innumerable petty reprises of a huge affair during her  great political days when she made a failed attempt to reduce the powers of the British Trade Unions in her 1969 White Paper, In Place of Strife. 

Unlike 1968, when she was able to persuade the unions of the injustice women faced at work, she was viewed as deceitful, because an attempt  to undermine the power of the unions was to bite the hand which had fed her. It also led directly to her political downfall and also to that of the Labour Party of the period although when published, the final bill was bereft of its most contentious clauses.

The real-life women strikers are seen – in classic Cole fashion – during the final credits. The film is their everlasting tribute but so is the Equal Pay Act as without them, it may not have been written –  not then and not in that way.


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