| This dramatization from director Nigel Cole ("Calendar Girls" and "A Lot Like Love") revolves around a landmark event that changed history.
The Ford assembly plant in the east London suburb of Dagenham employed 55,000 men and 187 women in 1968. These women tried to balance family life with the need to bring in another paycheck. Their primary responsibility was stitching car interiors together in a sweatshop basement so poorly ventilated that they often stripped down to their underwear.
Their union organizing floor manager, Albert (Bob Hoskins from "Hollywoodland" and "Mrs. Henderson Presents"), and elected shop steward, Connie (Geraldine James from "Alice in Wonderland" and "Sherlock Holmes"), send a complaint to management opposing the new grading structure that has classified them as "unskilled labor." When the deadline for a response passes, the gals decide by a unanimous vote to institute a one-day work stoppage and an immediate ban on all overtime. Their grievance really comes down to money. They want a level playing field and equal pay regardless of gender.
Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins from "Never Let Me Go," "An Education" and "Happy-Go-Lucky") steps out from the shadows and becomes their unlikely inspirational leader. They end up going on strike, demanding fairness in the workplace from their male-dominated corporate employer. Their motto is "equal pay or nothing."
The government’s involvement in the labor dispute is spearheaded by Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson from AMC’s "Rubicon," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hours"), a forceful individual from the Labour Party who describes herself as a "fiery redhead." A subplot involves a school teacher who takes discipline too far by striking his students with a cane.
This sets in motion a meeting between Rita and Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike from "An Education," "Die Another Day" and the upcoming "Barney’s Version"), the factory manager’s wife. They jointly sign a petition as mothers of children attending the school and request that the teacher be fired. Lisa is sympathetic to Rita’s cause and encourages her in a very emotional woman-to-woman moment not to give up the fight for equality.
The movie gets off to a slow start, but really gains steam in a dynamic second half. This transition corresponds to a change in tone from light humor to serious drama.
The strong performances of Hawkins, Richardson, Pike and Hoskins elevate the screenplay written by William Ivory. Archival footage is inserted to add authenticity.
This well-meaning salute to women in the workplace is an uplifting crowd-pleaser. Although the dialogue is hard to follow at times due to the British accents, the gist of the movie and the overriding principle at stake is unmistakable.
Hawkins as the reluctant heroine delivers some impassioned speeches. She also shows her domestic side as things get rocky in her marriage. Attractive window dressing is provided by actresses Jaime Winstone as Sandra and Andrea Riseborough as Brenda. The period touches extend to the costumes, beehive hairstyles and the familiar pop tunes of the late 1960s.
The movie debuted at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Hawkins, Pike and Hoskins along with the screenplay have been nominated for 2010 British Independent Film Awards. Hawkins has also been nominated for a Satellite Award as Best Actress in a comedy or musical.
The MPAA should be chastised for placing a restricted "R" rating on this picture much like "The King’s Speech." There is only one brief scene of sexuality and an extremely limited usage of profane language. Teenage girls will benefit from experiencing the characteristics of these female role models.
This welcome addition to the cinematic landscape should take its rightful place alongside other estrogen-infused activist offerings including "North Country," Iron Jawed Angels" and "Norma Rae."
The movie is opening exclusively this weekend at AMC Studio 30, Glenwood Red Bridge and the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"