Sex sells in Rome
by Boyd van Hoeij
British director Nigel Cole presented his latest work of female empowerment, Made in Dagenham [+see also:
interview: Nigel Cole
film profile], Out of Competition at the Rome International Film Festival, currently underway. Distributed in Italy and a few other countries as We Want Sex, the film is another middle-of-the-road, working-class feel-good film from the director of Saving Grace and Calendar Girls.
Dagenham is the location of the biggest automotive construction plant in Europe, at least in 1968, when the film opens. There are tens of thousands of male workers employed at the Ford factory there, but less than 200 women, who all work as seamstresses on the leather car seats.
Though a woman (Geraldine James) is nominally part of the unions, it is finally her plucky best friend, Rita (Happy-Go-Lucky [+see also:
film profile]’s Sally Hawkins), who stands up for the rights of the women workers. First, she demands that they not be named unskilled workers, and, after some nudging from a simpatico union leader (Bob Hoskins, playing Bob Hoskins), asks for something much bigger: equal pay.
When the women go on strike, something unexpected happens: when the plant runs out of seats to put in the 3000 cars they make daily, the entire factory is shut down, which shocks and worries not only the management of Ford Dagenham, but also the US headquarters of Ford and the British government, where, as it happens, a woman (Miranda Richardson, with a constantly quivering upper lip) is in charge of labour issues and working rights.
TV writer William Ivory’s screenplay is too episodic, especially in the first half, to fully engage, and though there is some light comedy, it is not of the laugh-a-minute variety, and the overall tone of the film hews closer to kitchen-sink drama. And as in most of Cole’s work, the film is too long but the actresses and production design are terrific.
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