Nigel Cole is not the kind of director who becomes a hot topic on AICN with his action masterworks, nor is he the kind of helmer who makes cinephile hearts go aflutter with his unusual directing technique and highly idiosyncratic world view. That isn’t to say that Cole’s latest, “Made in Dagenham,” lacks a certain amount of flair. It’s style, however, takes a definite backseat to clever writing and consistently good, and sometimes remarkably outstanding, performances. Nothing at all wrong with that, especially in a world lacking in good movies about women, as well as movies you can, give or take a little British cursing, safely take Aunt Minnie or Uncle Irv to see. Indeed, even hardened cinephiles should appreciate this well-made and intelligent, if comfortably unambitious and deliberately crowd-pleasing, comedy based on a crucial but overlooked episode from late 20th century British history.
Written by William Ivory and saddled with a ridiculous R-rating, “Dagenham” is the partially fictionalized story of how the entirely fictional Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) moves from anonymous factory worker and devoted wife and mother to working full-time as a leader of what amounts to a nationwide labor movement. Bob Hoskins portrays an idealistic and goodhearted union leader who sets Rita on a path that at first has her leading the opposition to an unfair job classification for female textile workers at Ford Motors, and later has her deeply involved with a nationwide movement taking on the entire idea of paying men more than women simply because they are men.
Though supported by her loving but at times clueless husband (Daniel Mays), an extended strike creates inevitable strains. The story resolves itself as the affair gets the attention of real-life Labour Party legend, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson, in a typically biting and hilarious turn), the first woman to attain cabinet status in a British government. Along the way, subplots involve the troubled marriage of her older best friend (Geraldine James) and her chance encounter with the “enemy,” Rosamund Pike as a fellow mom at her son’s school who also happens to be married to a key member of Ford Management (Rupert Graves).
Previously best known for the art-house hit “Calendar Girls” and his first feature, “Saving Grace,” a comedy about an aging pot grower starring Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson, Cole comes across like the down-to-earth bloke you might expect to be behind this kind of a film. Middle-aged and not particularly pretty, he introduced himself as Sally Hawkins, who we’d be meeting a bit later alongside Miranda Richardson, for another roundtable chat, getting the expected laugh from the table full of entertainment journalists.