Greetings again from the darkness. The first thing that strikes you about this movie is that it looks and feels like ancient history. In fact, it is based on the real life happenings in 1968 – only about 40 years ago. Sally Hawkins (so wonderful in Happy-Go-Lucky) portrays Rita O’Grady, the Ford sewing machinist who reluctantly takes on the leadership role in the battle for equal pay for women in Great Britain.
Director Nigel Cole tells this story minus the heavy-handedness of the times. In fact, it’s a very entertaining tale of right vs wrong (but, “that’s how we have always done it”). He uses actual archival footage of Ford plants, cars and workers, as well as general footage of England circa 1968. These cuts give the film a feel for the times and prevent any over-analysis of wardrobe and sets in the movie. Mr. Cole clearly has an understanding of women based on this film and his previous work in Calendar Girls. He also pulls no punches on his views of unions of the day.
The cross-fire between the unions, Ford Motor, the workers and the government really bang home the notion of just how ridiculous this entire argument was (and is). Rita O’Grady was so effective because she cut through the muck and made it what it really is … a simple case of right vs. wrong. Rights vs. privilege. This was never more apparent than in her meeting with Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson). Madam Secretary is attempting to negotiate a settlement that will keep Ford happy, but quickly realizes … with help from O’Grady … that there is really only one correct course of action.
Supporting work is excellent from Bob Hoskins, Ms. Richardson, Daniel Mayes (as O’Grady’s husband), Rupert Graves and Rosamund Pike (husband and wife on different sides of the debate) and the rest of the cast of women, as well as the Ford executives and Union leaders. The film mostly rests on the shoulders of Sally Hawkins, who breezes through with a natural energy that just makes you want to pull for her. She was terrific in Happy-Go-Lucky, and even better here.
The film stops short of detailing the massive battle that escalated the following year between Secretary Castle and the Labor Unions. Most attribute these fights to the downfall of the Labour Party in 1970. However, Ms. Castle’s contributions are very clear in these all-important topics and led directly to England’s Equal Pay laws of 1970, which in turn paved the way for most other countries to follow.
This is a very uplifting film and shows the bravery and determination required of those who change the course of history. Whenever you hear talk regarding the lack of strong female movie roles, this film is exhibit number one that fact is often more powerful than fiction! And it helps when told in a jolly good fashion.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed Norma Rae OR you agree with the old saying “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander”
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer serious social issues be confined to CNN – even if presented in an entertaining way