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Fight For Equal Pay

Made in Dagenham shows plight of female workers in the '60s


I keep a short-list of actresses who inspire me to buy a movie ticket no matter the quality of the story. I've added Sally Hawkins. For the record, the only other two on the list are Greta Gerwig and Kate Winslet.

Hawkins doesn't necessarily light up the screen, but she certainly illuminates any movie that she's in. Her award-worthy performance in Made in Dagenham showcases an everywoman who catapults a very personal story into a history-making sea change.

In the swinging '60s, London was rocking to Lennon and McCartney, Carnaby Street and Twiggy. But down the Thames in the industrial hamlet of Dagenham, the Ford motor plant was pushing out thousands of new cars daily. At the time, it was the fourth largest in the world.

In 1968, there were 55,000 men working at the state-of-the-art Dagenham line. But in a nearby warehouse, 187 women were toiling in a literal sweat shop, stripping down to their bras due to the intense heat. The women were industrial seamstresses, stitching fabric for new car seats. But when Ford management chose to demote all of the "girls" to an "unskilled" status and slash their pay, enough was enough. The women launched a work stoppage that shook the British Empire and changed labor laws in the Western World forever.

Some film critics have dismissed Made in Dagenham as light fare. But my appreciation grew due to the fact that Dagenham does not go too dark as so many "issue" films do. Made in Dagenham is a journey of empowerment, complete with bobbed hair, miniskirts and a '60s soundtrack. It's a better-than-average movie through the first hour and a half, and it's a great movie in the homestretch.

And then there's Sally Hawkins. With her wide-as-the-English Channel grin and liquid eyes, she turns what could have been a pedestrian David vs. Goliath story into a Full Monty meets Norma Rae.

When a reporter asks her how she might cope if she doesn't win her labor struggle, she waits a beat.

"Cope?" she responds. "Cope? We're women. Now don't ask such stupid questions."

Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson and Richard Schiff (The West Wing) costar.

You say you want a revolution? If Sally Hawkins is on the picket line, hand me a sign.